Legal Trade in Felids: The Impact of Infectious Diseases on Conservation
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2011

Cornelia J. Ketz-Riley1, DVM, DACZM; Ellen Bronson2, med vet, DACZM; Denise McAloose3, VMD, DACVP; Karen Terio4, DVM, PhD, DACVP

1Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, Center of Veterinary Health Sciences, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK, USA; 2Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, Baltimore, MD, USA; 3Pathology and Disease Investigation, Wildlife Conservation Society, Bronx, New York, NY, USA; 4Zoological Pathology Program, University of Illinois, Maywood, IL, USA


Many captive felid populations are not currently sustainable, and all non-domestic felids are declining in the wild. To increase the sustainability of captive populations, animals need to be moved between facilities for breeding, and there may be the need to import new founders. Wild populations are increasingly fragmented, and translocation of animals between populations is a necessary tool for effective management. However, infectious diseases limit the ability to move animals among facilities and in situ. While artificial reproductive technologies may assist some individuals, success with these techniques is not guaranteed, and for some infectious agents (e.g., feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)) infection via germplasm is possible. Uncertainty about the importance of infectious agents has been compounded by inconsistencies in diagnostic testing, a lack of accurate prevalence data and uncertain clinical significance for some pathogens. Infectious disease concerns in wild populations are heightened by increasing interaction with humans and their domestic animals, recent discussions of re-establishing cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) and tigers (Panthera tigris) into regions within their historic ranges, and disease outbreaks in critically endangered populations of felids such as the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) and Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi). Therefore, it is imperative that we gain a better understanding of infectious disease in order to comply with movements of animals for breeding recommendations and to make informed recommendations on translocations for the successful future management of captive and wild populations of felids.

A multitude of viral, bacterial, and parasitic diseases has been documented in captive and free-ranging felids. Studies in the 1980s and 1990s gave us a large body of initial information concerning the prevalence and clinical significance of these diseases in captive and free-ranging felid populations. Since that time, diagnostic capabilities have improved and further pathogens have been documented to cause morbidity and mortality in captive and free-ranging populations. feline leukemia virus, FIV, feline herpesvirus, virulent feline calicivirus, canine distemper virus, and Toxoplasma gondii represent some of the most significant disease causing agents lacking sufficient information. Many AZA institutions test and/or vaccinate against these pathogens regularly, although not always through the same laboratories, making comparison of data difficult.

Although the Felid Taxon Advisory Group (TAG) published preventative medicine guidelines in the 2009 Felid TAG report ( (VIN editor: The original link was not accessible as of 12-21-20.) pp. 40–46 and 89–96, including standardized tests and recommended laboratories for these pathogens (Table 1), there is still considerable confusion about the appropriate testing and what happens when an animal tests “positive” for an infectious agent. A veterinary research working group of the Felid TAG concluded that before sound recommendations can be made for moving felids, both between AZA institutions and to and from wild populations for import and reintroduction, a better understanding of these diseases and their consequences is vital. To this end, surveys regarding felid diseases will be created and sent to AZA institutions holding felid species in the coming year. Participation in these surveys will be vital to answering these questions to ensure better management of the felid species in our care.

Table 1. Recommended testing and laboratories for select pathogens of felid species


Screening test

Confirmatory test

Recommended lab

Feline herpesvirus


PCRc (swabs, biopsies)
IHC (tissues)

SN—Cornell University

Feline coronavirus


PCR (feces)

University of Tennessee

Feline leukemia virus


IFAd (bone marrow)


Feline immunodeficiency virus


Western Blot

Cornell University

Feline calicivirus

Virus isolation/PCR



Feline panleukopenia virus/canine parvovirus

EM (feces)

IHCe (tissues)


Canine distemper virus


IHC (tissues)

SN—Cornell University

aSerum neutralization
bEnzyme-linked immunosorbent assay
cPolymerase chain reaction
dIndirect fluorescent antibody


The authors would like to thank all the participants of the Veterinary Research Working Group at the 2011 Felid TAG meeting in Omaha, Nebraska for gathering the information for this presentation and for the idea of a felid disease survey for AZA institutions.


Speaker Information
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Cornelia J. Ketz-Riley, DVM, DACZM
Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences
Center of Veterinary Health Sciences
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK, USA

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