Many Captive Tigers Are Of Purebred Ancestry; Finding Raises Their Conservation Value

Tigers held in captivity around the world–including those in zoos, circuses, and private homes–may hold considerable conservation value for the rapidly dwindling wild populations around the world, according to a new report published online on April 17th in Current Biology. Using a new method for assessing the genetic ancestry of tigers, researchers discovered that many apparently “generic” tigers actually represent purebred subspecies and harbor 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, Frederick. “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 Indochinese tiger has been classified as a different subspecies from the Malayan tiger, leaving just 14 recognized Indochinese individuals in captivity. “Thus,” Luo added, “verification of VSA Indochinese tigers, establishment of captive breeding programs, and preservation of remaining Indochinese tiger populations in the wild should be set as one of the top priorities in the global tiger conservation strategy.”

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