A European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) was established in the early 1990s, in order to manage a captive population of Asian lions (Panthera leo leo) within European zoos. The founders of this population comprised of nine individuals that originated from a captive population in India. During 2007–2009, 57 lions were born in the European captive population. Of these births, 35 individuals died within 20 days, three died within two months and one individual was euthanased at four months old. Indeed, over 50% of the total historical captive population died within 30 days of birth. The ‘European Studbook for the Asian Lion’ shows that the EEP founder population contains individuals from matings of full and half siblings, including all female founders. It is probable that high levels of inbreeding within this captive population are causing high levels of stillbirths and infant mortality. Previous research has shown that there is limited genetic variation in the captive population in India. This study uses the same microsatellite markers to establish the level of genetic variation that was present when the EEP population was established in comparison with that observed in the Indian zoo population, from which it was derived. Only three of the 12 microsatellite markers, showing variation in the Indian captive population, showed bi-allelic heterozygosity in the EEP founders, indicating that most variation was not present during the establishment of the EEP population. Therefore, the future of the Asian lion EEP is compromised by lack of genetic variation and high levels of inbreeding, which can only be alleviated by importing further individuals with different genotypes from India.
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National Museums Scotland
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