Southern African leopards are genetically healthy: study
The southern Africa leopard population displays a healthy genetic structure‚ according to a study by researchers from six countries including South Africa's Stellenbosch University.
The research is a first step towards the development of guidelines for maintaining the natural genetic structure and diversity of the southern African leopard population (Panthera pardus).
The researchers recommend that leopards that come into conflict with farmers or rural populations should ideally not be translocated further than 100 kilometres from where they were caught‚ as it can compromise their natural genetic structure.
The results of the study‚ conducted by a multidisciplinary team of researchers from South Africa‚ the United Kingdom‚ Australia‚ Norway‚ the United States of America and France‚ have been published in the journal Comptes Rendus Biologies.
Professor Conrad Matthee‚ an evolutionary biologist from Stellenbosch University and the senior author on the research article‚ said in a report on the university's website: "Our leopards have high genetic diversity‚ with relatively low inbreeding‚ thus suggesting minimal vulnerability from small population size‚ inbreeding depression or mating strategies".
However‚ this natural picture of genetic diversity can change when problem leopards are moved to other areas to reduce conflict with humans: “Animals adapt to their local environment and the adaptations that work in the Western Cape may not be as effective in the Kruger National Park. If this is the case and a leopard from the Western Cape should breed with one from the Kruger‚ you weaken the gene pool specific to that area.”
The research team collected DNA samples from 145 leopards originating from the Kruger National Park‚ Mkuze and Phinda Game Reserves in KwaZulu-Natal‚ the Baviaanskloof World Heritage Site in the Eastern Cape‚ the Niassa province in Mozambique and one sample from southern Zimbabwe.