Crash in Genetic Diversity Killing Bengal Tiger

Lack of genetic diversity killing tiger

A lack of genetic diversity is killing off the Bengal tiger. Photo by PRERNA SINGH BINDR. See his report about poor management.

The Bengal tiger is more vulnerable to extinction than previously thought due to a catastrophic decline in genetic diversity since the days of the British Raj when the tiger was hunted for pleasure. Since then it has dawned on people that the Bengal tiger reserves set up by India’s Project Tiger are too small to sustain a sufficiently large population. They are island reserves containing 20 – 120 tigers, which promotes tiger inbreeding. There have been discussions about this for many years and now it has come home to roost. Even when tigers are shipped from one reserve to another related tigers can be introduced and translocating felids is problematic. Then there is the poaching for tiger parts shipped to China together with encroachment by commercialism on these small reserves disturbing the tigers  – there is some confusion in how to manage commercialisation of the tiger. This all combines to paint a black picture.

Simply breeding more tigers will not fix the problem. For every 100 variations of tiger in existence in the days of the British Raj just seven remain today. There are just two distinct genetic types of tiger in today’s Indian Bengal tiger reserves.  One hundred years ago the tiger roamed across India largely unencumbered.  The reserves just cut them off from each other. The impossible solution is to join the reserves together to enlarge them. The chances of that happening is next to zero.

The discovery of the sharp reduction in the Bengal tiger gene pool comes from doing DNA tests on old tiger skins and parts that were languishing in storage basements at the Natural History Museum, London and the National Museum of Scotland. Modern DNA testing has made significant advances allowing these old tiger body parts to be analysed.

Male wild cat roaming is good for genetic diversity. It is essential for genetic diversity. I was writing about this problem years ago:

The Wildlife Protection Society of India spokesperson calls the reserves “pockets” and says that unless they are connected the Bengal tiger won’t survive.

Personally, my belief is that it is already too late because the gene pool is already too low. The Siberian tiger has the same problem. Although there are about 400 Siberian tiger in the wild, their breeding capacity is the same as 14!

Finally, counting tigers has always be problematic. We don’t really know how many Bengal tigers there are….

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Crash in Genetic Diversity Killing Bengal Tiger — 6 Comments

  1. It’s just so sad. It feels like the very end of an era. I don’t know if I should be one of those tourists just once and go and see these beautiful creatures before it’s all over. Poor things.

    • Some people, like one American, Joe Exotic (can you believe it?) who has the largest private tiger zoo in America declared sadly and knowingly that the tiger is destined to be extinct in the wild in the not too distant future. Certainly in your lifetime, Marc. It is ordained. It is written. It is certain because we simply don’t have a handle on conservation. We don’t, because not enough people care.

      It is incredibly sad and it adds to my distress living in this world. Almost everything feels wrong and no one in power can put it right. It is out of control really.

      • It’s so absurd. I think humans with all their intelligence are infact incredibly stupid in many or most cases. I just said what I thought about zoos in my office here – I said I would never take a child to a zoo and they all looked at me and clearly hadn’t even thought about it. One guy said kids should go because it’s an education. There are zoos and there are zoos but regardless I don’t think seeing a tiger in captivity is ‘seeing a tiger’, it’s ‘seeing a tiger in captivity’ yet it is presented as ‘seeing a tiger’. Plus I know from when I was little at the zoo near Regents park being so sad looking at the animals. Particularly looking at the penguins. I didn’t like it. It gives the wrong idea of the animals. You see them but you don’t in some funny wayy that seeing penguins in the wild would be an entirely different thing. It’s typically human and consumer to bring the animals to us but the animals cannot be without their home.. They are confused standing around with people staring at them. I believe its not natural to stand 10 feet away from a tiger. IT should not be. They should be far away if you see them. They are beautiful magical creatures but not if they are 10 feet away depressed in a box. SOme animals should only be seen by those who are lucky enough to see them in the wild. That is exactly how they should exist in human experience. It’s not fair to take them to a different land with different weather and plants and trees. And people so close to them and the sounds of machinery. Can you imagine the animals in the zoo in london looking at the sky at night and seeing just orange and no stars. The sky in london really is awful. I remember getting home from parties early in the morning and the birds would be tweeting. In london they tweet all night. Those poor animals in the zoo. Can you imagine for the penguins the difference between antartica and central london. If we humans saw antartica we’d never forget it’s huge and majestic beauty and the enormous feeling of isolation – for them this is home. They need it to function I believe or they cannot be themselves.

        • I think humans with all their intelligence are infact incredibly stupid in many or most cases

          Despair comes to mind. So much is stupid. The population of humankind should be about one third of what it is or less. Then, we could leave the tiger alone in his own space and tigers need so much space. For example, the male Siberian tiger requires 800 to 1000 square kilometers of space! Image being in a cage 20 feet square. 🙁

          Humans are a disease crawling over the planet destroying it quite quickly actually (sorry for the extreme vision). The destruction is speeding up. We are unable to work in unison. It is all about pursuing self-interest in the short-term. Disastrous. I’ll be gone when things get really bad.

  2. You mourn for the loss of native cat species in other lands, and yet do absolutely nothing to stop the extinction of your very own Scottish Wildcat, nor take one bit of responsibility for it.

    “A report, produced by the Scottish Wildcat Association, reviewed 2,000 records of camera trap recordings, eyewitness reports and road kills, and concluded there may be only about 40 wildcats left in Scotland in the wild today. ‘However you juggle the figures, it is hard to find anything positive,’ says Steve Piper, the association’s chairman. ‘The overwhelming evidence is that the wildcat is going to be extinct within months.'” … “However, it is not the loss of habitat that is causing the current cat crisis in the Cairngorms. It is the spread of the domestic cat.” … “‘Essentially the Highland wildcat is being eradicated by an alien invasive species: the domestic cat.'”

    • Your comment is irrelevant. Of course concerned British people mourn the possible loss of the Scottish Wildcat but that does not stop me reporting on the impending loss of the tiger a far more high profile wild cat species.

      …yet do absolutely nothing to stop the extinction of your very own Scottish Wildcat,

      Wrong. Completely wrong.

      Please read this:

      There are many other pages on PoC. I know you don’t believe in TNR but the Scottish Wildcat Association does.

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