Canine distemper virus (CDV) is thought to have caused several fatal epidemics in canids within the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem of East Africa, affecting silver-backed jackals (Canis mesomelas) and bat-cared foxes (Otocyon megalotis) in 1978, and African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) in 1991. The large, closely monitored Serengeti lion population was not affected in these epidemics. However, an epidemic caused by a morbillivirus closely related to CDV emerged abruptly in the lion population of the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, in early 1994, resulting in fatal neurological disease characterized by grand mal seizures and myoclonus; the lions that died had encephalitis and pneumonia. Here we report the identification of CDV from these lions, and the close phylogenetic relationship between CDV isolates from lions and domestic dogs, By August 1994, 85% of the Serengeti lion population had anti-CDV antibodies, and the epidemic spread north to lions in the Maasai Mara National reserve, Kenya, and uncounted hyaenas, bat-cared foxes, and leopards were also affected.
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