The strong suspicion that Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) may be causing disease in wild Sumatran tigers led to an initiative by WVI in September 2013 to establish an Indonesian organisation that would identify significant endemic and emerging diseases in wild Sumatran tigers across the island.

In order for the STHF to benefit from the experience other tiger states have had with this disease, STHF invited WVI to provide technical advice and assitance. It was agreed there would be 6 monthly review meetings in Indonesia and support would be available from the UK in intervening periods.

The first review meeting was held in March 2014 and was attended by WVI’s big cat specialist, Dr John Lewis. Sadly, progress has been severely limited by the prolonged and severe illness of STHF’s chair, Dr Retno Sudarwati. Tiger conservation has lost a dedicated and enthusiastic professional when Dr Retno tragically died in April 2014. Our condolences go out to her family, friends and colleagues.

In her absence, STHF invited Dr Lewis to guide the forum in supporting individuals with tasks they had been assigned and to monitor progress closely via email.

This is clearly only an interim situation until a new chair can be elected at the forum’s next meeting in September 2014.

The loss of Dr Retno to the STHF and tiger conservation in general is a sad and significant one, but ambitious projects like the development of disease surveillance programmes for wild tiger populations inevitably experience setbacks. It is the response to such situations that is important.

WVI takes a long term view and will assist in overcoming such difficulties as and when they arise. The need for the STHF is not diminished, and neither is our commitment to the project.

Furthermore, Taman Safari Indonesia remains solidly supportive of the STHF and there is no reason why the forum shouldn’t evolve into a valuable organisation serving the needs of tiger conservation in years to come.

On a more positive note, the meetings in March 2014 have set the framework for the next phase in the ongoing training programme for Indonesian wildlife vets and the agreement in principle that CDV research could start on Sumatra is a major step forward.


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