Subspecies Genetic Assignments of Worldwide Captive Tigers Increase Conservation Value of Captive Populations

Shu Jin Luo, Warren E. Johnson, Janice Martenson, Agostinho Antunes, Paolo Martelli, Olga Uphyrkina, Kathy Traylor-Holzer, James L.D. Smith, Stephen J. O'Brien

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


Tigers (Panthera tigris) are disappearing rapidly from the wild, from over 100,000 in the 1900s to as few as 3000 [1, 2]. Javan (P.t. sondaica), Bali (P.t. balica), and Caspian (P.t. virgata) subspecies are extinct, whereas the South China tiger (P.t. amoyensis) persists only in zoos [1, 3]. By contrast, captive tigers are flourishing, with 15,000-20,000 individuals worldwide, outnumbering their wild relatives five to seven times [4]. We assessed subspecies genetic ancestry of 105 captive tigers from 14 countries and regions by using Bayesian analysis and diagnostic genetic markers defined by a prior analysis of 134 voucher tigers of significant genetic distinctiveness [5]. We assigned 49 tigers to one of five subspecies (Bengal P.t. tigris, Sumatran P.t. sumatrae, Indochinese P.t. corbetti, Amur P.t. altaica, and Malayan P.t. jacksoni tigers) and determined 52 had admixed subspecies origins. The tested captive tigers retain appreciable genomic diversity unobserved in their wild counterparts, perhaps a consequence of large population size, century-long introduction of new founders, and managed-breeding strategies to retain genetic variability. Assessment of verified subspecies ancestry offers a powerful tool that, if applied to tigers of uncertain background, may considerably increase the number of purebred tigers suitable for conservation management.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)592-596
Number of pages5
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 22 2008




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