The critically endangered population of Far Eastern leopards (Panthera pardus orientalis) may number as few as 60 individuals and is at risk from stochastic processes such as infectious disease. During May 2015, a case of canine distemper virus (CDV) was diagnosed in a wild leopard exhibiting severe neurologic disease in the Russian territory of Primorskii Krai. Amplified sequences of the CDV hemagglutinin gene and phosphoprotein gene aligned within the Arctic-like clade of CDV, which includes viruses from elsewhere in Russia, China, Europe, and North America. Histologic examination of cerebral tissue revealed perivascular lymphoid cuffing and demyelination of the white matter consistent with CDV infection. Neutralizing antibodies against CDV were detected in archived serum from two wild Far Eastern leopards sampled during 1993–94, confirming previous exposure in the population. This leopard population is likely too small to maintain circulation of CDV, suggesting that infections arise from spillover from more-abundant domestic or wild carnivore reservoirs. Increasing the population size and establishment of additional populations of leopards would be important steps toward securing the future of this subspecies and reducing the risk posed by future outbreaks of CDV or other infectious diseases.
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Vol. 54 • No. 1