• An assessment of the genetic diversity of the founders of the European captive population of Asiatic lion (Panthera leo persica) using microsatellite markers and studbook analysis

      McDowall, Ian; O'Donoghue, Paul; Atkinson, Kirsty (University of Chester, 2017-05)
      The European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) population of Asiatic lions (Panthera leo persica) was founded in the early 1990’s from nine individuals sourced from an Indian captive population. During 2007-2009, 57 lions were born into this captive population. Of these births, 35 individuals died within 20 days, three within two months, and one individual was medically euthanized at four months. Indeed, over 50% of total historic captive population died within 30 days of birth. These stillbirths, and high levels of infant mortality, could be due to high levels of inbreeding. Previous research has recorded genetic variation in the current Indian captive population. This research uses the same microsatellite markers to establish the level of genetic variation which was captured in the establishment of the EEP population in relation to the variation observed in Indian zoo populations. At 12 markers showing variation in the Indian captive population, only two showed bi-allelic heterozygosity in the EEP founders, suggesting that variation was not captured during the establishment of the EEP population. This lack of variation was confirmed through sequencing of two mitochondrial DNA segments; cytochrome b and D-Loop. The ‘European Studbook for the Asiatic Lion’ provides some historic pedigree information showing that the EEP founder population contains offspring resulting from full-sibling and half-sibling matings, resulting in a number of inbred individuals, including all the female founders. A number of unsuitable matings have also been recorded during the last decade. Given the observed limited genetic variation at the markers tested, this study recommends the import of Asiatic lions from India (captive or wild-caught), incorporating genetic testing and studbook analysis, in order to introduce genetic variation into the EEP.