Captive tigers are of purebred ancestry: study

April 18th, 2008 - 12:49 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, April 18 (IANS) Tigers held captive in zoos, circuses and private homes worldwide may hold considerable conservation value for their rapidly dwindling wild brethren, according to a new study. A new method for assessing the genetic ancestry of tigers has helped researchers discover that many apparently “generic” tigers actually represent purebred subspecies and harbour genomic diversity no longer found in nature.

“Assessment of ‘verified subspecies ancestry’ (VSA) offers a powerful tool that, if applied to tigers of uncertain background, may considerably increase the number of purebred tigers suitable for conservation management,” said Shu-Jin Luo of the National Cancer Institute.

“This approach would be of particular importance to tiger subspecies that have suffered severe population decline in the wild and/or lack of efficient captive breeding.”

For instance, he said, the Indo-Chinese tiger has been classified as a different subspecies from the Malayan tiger, leaving just 14 recognised Indo-Chinese individuals in captivity.

“Thus,” Luo added, “verification of VSA Indo-Chinese tigers, establishment of captive breeding programmes, and preservation of remaining Indo-Chinese tiger populations in the wild should be set as one of the top priorities in the global tiger conservation strategy.”

Tigers in general are disappearing rapidly from the wild, from over 100,000 in the 1900s to as few as 3,000 last year, said Stephen O’Brien, who led the research.

Of these, according to the latest figures, some 1,411 are in India.

A relatively small portion of the world’s captive tigers - some 1,000 individuals in all - are managed through coordinated breeding programmes that aim to preserve genetic variability representative of geographic and subspecies groupings found in the wild, the researchers said.

“Also, an important fraction of captive tigers retain genetic diversity unreported, and perhaps absent, in the wild populations,” said O’Brien.

These findings appeared online Thursday in the latest edition of the journal Current Biology.

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