This paper describes virological and epidemiological features of an infection which killed two of three affected cheetahs at Whipsnade Park in 1977. Two animals had profuse skin lesions and the third had an acute haemorrhagic pneumonia. The outbreak was shown to be caused by cowpox virus. Cowpox virus is believed to circulate in small wild animals, but the source of infection was not traced despite virological and serological tests on 93 captive and 102 wild animals.
Sub-clinical infections did not occur in susceptible contact cheetahs. Immune globulin did not influence the outcome and smallpox vaccine does not take in cheetahs. Management of any future outbreak will rely on prompt diagnosis and segregation of infected animals.