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.”

Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

Voices
Stephanie first after her public appearance as a woman at Rad Fest 2014
voices

Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004
music

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
Arts and Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio talks during the press conference for the film
films

Film follows park rangers in the Congo

Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
News
i100
Sport
Adel Taraabt in action for QPR against West Ham earlier this month
footballQPR boss says midfielder is 'not fit to play football'
News
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

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

English Teacher

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Group: English as an Additional Langua...

Nursery assistants required in Cambridgeshire

£10000 - £15000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Nursery assistants re...

History Teacher

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Seconda...

** Female PE Teacher Urgently Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album