Genetics

As with other species, the genetic diversity of tigers is crucial for avoiding the well-known hazards of inbreeding. It is well recognized that a healthy population can only survive by sharing a sufficiently large gene pool and thus can continue to evolve and filter its way around the environmental factors. Many of the current captive tiger populations suffer from severe hip-dysplasia, cross-eyes, weakened immune systems, abnormalities, and birth defects.

Tiger

Tiger Missing Link Foundation is concerned with these issues and is working on the implementation of sound genetic management of captive tigers based on DNA testing. This DNA testing allows for the correct enhancement and propagation of the species. Genetic management allows tiger managers to retain the maximum genetic diversity possible for living populations and properly identifies the classifications of sub-specific identities, thus ensuring the tigers survival.

Currently taxon is based on historical or traditional geopolitical tiger ranges, and captive breeding programs of zoos are structured from these historical origins and genealogical tracings. With DNA testing, we can perform a "damage control assessment" to ensure that tigers are being managed properly both in zoos and in the wild. TMLF is the only agency actively pursuing the DNA testing of captive tigers.

Tiger Genome Project

Tiger Missing Link Foundation's intention is to determine the genetic makeup of the undocumented captive tigers as a measure for providing the "missing link" to saving the tiger from extinction.

We present an overview of molecular techniques available for pursuing population, taxonomic, and phylogenetic questions, with a special emphasis on the latest PCR-based technologies of DNA sequencing and micro satellites and on the computer programs available for analysis of molecular genetic data. The intent of TMLF is to share an interest in conservation as well as a common goal of learning and applying conservation genetics in the management of endangered species, more specifically the tiger. Through management of captive tigers, this principle ensures the tigers' survival by taking them "Beyond Extinction.™"

Unfortunately, the gene pool of numerous tiger subspecies is being severely depleted as the environmental factors change rapidly. However, arguments can be presented that there are certain tiger genomes that have yet to be located in the existing populations as discovered in our first study of tigers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). That study indicated that certain tiger genomes exist in the private sector that are not represented in zoos or in wild tiger populations. This has not been significantly investigated, and additional research is needed.

On July 2, 1998, the Tiger Missing Link Foundation and Dr. Christian Zwieb, an internationally recognized Molecular Biologist, began a joint research project to analyze DNA samples of up to 300 tigers. This project makes history with tiger conservation, as we are the only non-government organization (NGO) working with tiger genetics in the U.S.

What is Conservation Genetics?

The fundamental problem of tigers' endangerment stems from the loss or alteration of their habitat. Management of ecosystems can help preserve tigers who are threatened.

The Science of Conservation Biology explores individuals and populations that have been affected by habitat loss, exploitation, and environmental changes. That information is used to make informed decisions to ensure the survival of tigers in the future.

The Science of Genetics is the study of inheritance and the investigation of the genes responsible for inherited traits.

Put the two together and you get the Science of Conservation Genetics. In the past, conservation has been addressed from a mathematical, evolutionary, or taxonomic point of view. Taxonomic views are limited and currently dominate the conservation management of tigers both in the wild and in captivity. Genetic studies supply conservation scientists and ecological managers with new insights regarding the extent of diversity among the individuals in a population. Without using genetics, we are and can be left conserving the wrong population, wasting valuable resources on a population that isn't endangered or may not even exist as an individual subspecies.

Conservation Genetics is an applied science; Conservation Genetics utilizes concepts, theories and methods of more traditionally defined fields.

Conservation Genetics also adds to our knowledge of these fields:

  • genetics
  • ecology
  • behavior
  • physiology
  • molecular biology
  • evolution
  • demography

One of the main goals of Conservation Genetics is to develop effective management strategies for the conservation of endangered species and living populations.

These strategies should consider and include:

  • past and current status, as well as future prospects of a population or species
  • preservation of genetic diversity
  • efforts to preserve evolutionary processes such as hybridization and speciation

The goal of recent advances in Conservation Genetics is to develop and interpret a variety of genetic data in order to answer specific questions regarding tiger populations of interest.

Article of Interest:

Wilderness Diagnosis: What Is the White Bengal Tiger's Future? by Swati Mishra