Indian tigers face extinction due to inbreeding and 'lack of genetic diversity'

Scientists say the current population has just seven per cent of the total DNA that existed within the community during British Raj

India’s population of tigers, which once surpassed 100,000 animals, is facing extinction because of a collapse in the variety of mating partners, according to new research.

Scientists say the current population of tigers has just seven per cent of the total DNA that existed within the community at the time of the British empire, when the animals were routinely hunted by British officials and Indian royalty.

The experts say that while India’s dwindling numbers of tigers may have stabilised in recent years, the threat of inbreeding is being overlooked and that action must be taken to prevent “islands” of just a handful of tigers that are not connected to other populations.

“A lot of the diversity has gone because the population has collapsed as a result of the threat to habitat,” said Professor Mike Buford of the School of Biosciences at Britain’s Cardiff University.

“What genetic diversity is left only exists in pockets. The Indian government is saying things are reasonably all right because the population has stabilised. But we are saying that is only part of the story.”

At the turn of the 20th Century, India was home to an estimated 100,000 of the animals. As a result of hunting, illegal poaching and declining habitats, that number now stands at fewer than 2,000.

Scientists from Britain, in collaboration National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore, were able to compare genetic data from modern tigers with that of animals shot during the time of the British Raj. Those animals are part of the London Natural History Museum tiger collection.

The researchers found a high number of DNA variants in the tigers shot more than a 100 years ago and that up to 93 per cent of the that diversity missing in today’s creatures.

“We found that genetic diversity has been lost dramatically compared to the Raj tigers and what diversity remains has become much more subdivided into the small populations that exist today,” said Mr Bruford.

He added: “This is important because tigers, like all other species, need genetic diversity to survive - especially under climate change – so what diversity remains needs to be managed properly so that the Indian tiger does not become inbred, and retains its capacity to adapt.”

The latest census of tigers in India, carried out in 2011, suggested the total population may stand at around 1,700, a figure that would represent a stabilisation or even a slight increase on previous counts.

However, not all experts trust that figure, pointing out that the survey was done using camera traps and extrapolation rather than pug mark counts, as has been previously used.

Valmik Thapar, a leading Indian tiger expert, said he believed the biggest challenge to the nation’s big cats was a lack of political leadership and poor governance.

He said the idea of the establishment of “corridors” for the tigers that joined up various populations, would never happen. “We don’t have the political will or the governance,” he told The Independent.

The Cardiff scientists, whose work is published in the Proceedings of The Royal Society B journal, said the territory occupied by the tiger has declined more than 50 per cent during the last three generations and that today mating only occurs in 7 per cent of its historical territory.

India accounts for perhaps 60 per cent of the world’s tigers. Yet everywhere they are under threat and over the past century total numbers have fallen by 95 per cent.

Of the nine sub-species of tiger, three – the Caspian, Javanese and Balinese – are already lost. A fourth, the South China tiger, is considered “functionally extinct” with perhaps fewer than 30 surviving in the wild, and the the Sumatran tiger is listed as critically endangered.

The others – the Indochinese, the Malayan, the Siberian and India’s Bengal tiger, are all facing hue threats.

“Both conservationists and the Indian Government must appreciate that the number of tigers alone is not enough to ensure the species’ survival,” said Mr Bruford.

“They need to protect the whole spread of forest reserves because many reserves now have their own unique gene combinations, which might be useful for future breeding programmes.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Angel Di Maria is shown the red card
tech
Sport
Roger Federer after his win over Tomas Berdych
sport
Life and Style
News in briefs: big pants in 'Bridget Jones's Diary'
fashionBig knickers are back
Sport
James Milner is set to sign for Liverpool this week despite rival interest from Arsenal
sportReds baulk at Benteke £32.5m release clause
News
The controversial Motor Neurone Disease Association poster, featuring sufferer Michael Smith, has drawn a series of angry complaints
newsThis one has been criticised for its 'threatening tone'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Executive - Graduate / Entry Level

£22000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital advertising infras...

Recruitment Genius: European Sales Director - Aerospace Cable & Wire

£100000 - £125000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a top tier supplier to the...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Project Manager

£17100 - £22900 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the North West's leading...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an intermediate help de...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral