Pandas in China are under threat from a new virus which has already taken the lives of two of the animals, and left a third in critical condition.
Canine distemper virus, which can kill 80 percent of pandas infected with the microorganism, recently took the lives of Dabao and Cheng cheng. Dabao passed away on January 4, 2015, more than a month after the death of Cheng Cheng, who succumbed to the disease on December 9, 2014.
Chinese veterinarians are attempting to treat the remaining animal with anti-viral drugs, in an effort to save the life of the giant panda Feng Feng. The five-year-old female creature, who was diagnosed on December 26, 2014, has already suffered serious liver, kidney, heart, and lung damage.
"Canine distemper, parvovirus, hemorrhagic colitis (a type of gastroenteritis) and intestinal flu are among the diseases that may cause pandas to die. Canine distemper and parvovirus are more often found among wild pandas, while captive pandas are more likely to fall victim to hemorrhagic colitis and intestinal flu," Zhang Hemin, director of Wolong reserve's administrative bureau, said.
The Shaanxi Province Rare Wildlife Rescue and Breeding Research Center reports they do not know how the animals became infected with the virus. Researchers are doing their best to prevent the disease from spreading to other animals. Few tools are available in China to veterinarians treating and preventing diseases in pandas.
"It's hard on giant pandas, because no companies or research institutions at home produce vaccines that are specially designed for giant pandas. In other words, we can hardly find a vaccine that can give effective protection," Jin Yipeng from China Agriculture University, said.
Pandas housed in Sichuan province bordering the affected area are being partially isolated from humans, and additional disinfection procedures have been instituted to keep the animals safe.
The WWF estimates there were only about 1,600 pandas left in the wild in 2004. Just over 380 of the animals are living in controlled environments. The animals are notoriously difficult to breed in captivity. Some progress has been made in that task over the last few years, but a virulent virus could set back progress made in restoring the population of the endangered animals.
Recording the numbers of pandas living in the wild is a challenging task, due to the solitary nature of the species. Researchers trek through remote stretches of wilderness, searching for dung deposits left by the animals. Pieces of undigested bamboo in the scat are examined for teeth marks, which are as unique as fingerprints, in order to identify specific animals in a given region.