Viruses of the Serengeti: patterns of infection and mortality in African lions


Dr C. Packer, Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, University of Minnesota, 1987 Upper Buford Circle, St Paul, MN 55108, USA.
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1. We present data on the temporal dynamics of six viruses that infect lions (Panthera leo) in the Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania. These populations have been studied continuously for the past 30 years, and previous research has documented their seroprevalence for feline herpesvirus, feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), feline calicivirus, feline parvovirus, feline coronavirus and canine distemper virus (CDV). A seventh virus, feline leukaemia virus (FeLV), was absent from these animals.

2. Comprehensive analysis reveals that feline herpesvirus and FIV were consistently prevalent at high levels, indicating that they were endemic in the host populations. Feline calici-, parvo- and coronavirus, and CDV repeatedly showed a pattern of seroprevalence that was indicative of discrete disease epidemics: a brief period of high exposure for each virus was followed by declining seroprevalence.

3. The timing of viral invasion suggests that different epidemic viruses are associated with different minimum threshold densities of susceptible hosts. Furthermore, the proportion of susceptibles that became infected during disease outbreaks was positively correlated with the number of susceptible hosts at the beginning of each outbreak.

4. Examination of the relationship between disease outbreaks and host fitness suggest that these viruses do not affect birth and death rates in lions, with the exception of the 1994 outbreak of canine distemper virus. Although the endemic viruses (FHV and FIV) were too prevalent to measure precise health effects, there was no evidence that FIV infection reduced host longevity.