My spouse and I watched a fascinating show the other day on Animal Planet. It highlighted how canine distemper virus (CDV) was having a profound impact on big cats in the wild. It was called Man-Eating Zombie Cats: A Hunter's Fatal Mistake.
It was fascinating that they kept referring to them as “zombie cats.” This implies that the cats are becoming mindless killing machines, which, in fact, is very true. They lose all sense of fear, they attack prey they wouldn’t normally attack, and they can be found wandering city streets—sometimes without a clue as to what’s going on. If that doesn’t sound like a zombie, I don’t know what does.
What CDV does is attacks the central nervous system and eventually gets into the brain. It causes cats to behave abnormally. There have been documented cases of them attacking, killing, and consuming humans. Cats normally live very solitary lives and stay as far away from humans as possible, so this behavior is concerning.
Now, unlike fictional zombies that we see in books and movies, these cats are not returning from the dead to consume the living. However, like fictional zombies, these cats are acting out of character. Their natural fears and actions no longer exist. They begin acting in unnatural ways. Like fictional zombies, this becomes a problem because humans become the cats’ target.
In some zombie films, a virus is the cause of the zombie uprising. Viruses are great candidates because they are hard to kill and we still don’t know everything about them—and this is certainly true in the case of zombie cats. One of the biggest concerns scientists have about this particular case is that it’s incredibly hard to track how these cats are contracting the virus, how many will be affected by it, and how to eradicate the disease. As you can imagine, humans encroaching into the big cats’ habitat has had a huge impact on the spread of the virus.
It’s scary to think that something so small (the virus) could have such a major impact on the world. Zombies become a great metaphor for these fears because we don’t understand them, they are hard to kill, and they overrun a population. Once CDV gets into a cat population, it also overruns it and kills until there is nothing left.
This is exactly the type of thing I looked at while researching for my nonfiction zombie book. But my focus was on how viruses impact humans. I feel so sorry for the big cats and the humans that become their targets. Scientists, conservationists, and others are trying to control the outbreak and figure out ways to help the cat populations, but it’s going to take time. My fingers are crossed that they can find a solution to this concerning problem.