Contributing Monkie Sarah Backhouse
Published on May 9, 2008
There is no one endangered species that’s more important than another. However, in the case of tigers, their majestic beauty and awesome power make the fact that they’re indeed in trouble all the more unbearable. The New York Times reports that “there are only about 3,000 remaining in the wild, down from about 100,000 a century ago.”
Ironically enough, it seems their status as the most potent symbol of Asia is what makes them vulnerable. Tigers are under threat due to illegal poaching (their body parts are used illegally in Chinese medicine), loss of habitat and loss of prey.
But now for the good news.
Of the 15,000 to 20,000 tigers in captivity — namely in zoos, breeding facilities, circuses and private homes — it was previously thought that only 1,000 of them could be used in managed breeding programs which are “designed to preserve genetic diversity among Bengal, Sumatran and other tiger subspecies.” The rest were considered “generic”, meaning that they’re hybrids or of unknown genetics. However, a new study by Shu-Jin Luo and Stephen J. O’Brien of the Laboratory of Genomic Diversity at the National Cancer Institute, published in Current Biology, suggests that these generics are not so generic after all.
It’s estimated that 20% of all captive tigers are “purebred and retain genetic variations that are not found in the wild.” Researchers performed DNA analyses of captive tigers of uncertain pedigree and compared them with earlier data of tigers with genetic distinctiveness. 47% could be “categorized as being from one of five subspecies”. Since many of those were from breeding programs, the actual figure is probably between 14-23%.
Regardless, it’s good to know there are an increased number of tigers available for breeding programs. Here’s hoping tiger numbers increase in the century to come.
(via the New York Times)