Genetic guidelines for translocations: Maintaining intraspecific diversity in the lion ( Panthera leo)

Evol Appl. 2021 Dec 6;15(1):22-39. doi: 10.1111/eva.13318. eCollection 2022 Jan.


Conservation translocations have become an important management tool, particularly for large wildlife species such as the lion (Panthera leo). When planning translocations, the genetic background of populations needs to be taken into account; failure to do so risks disrupting existing patterns of genetic variation, ultimately leading to genetic homogenization, and thereby reducing resilience and adaptability of the species. We urge wildlife managers to include knowledge of the genetic background of source/target populations, as well as species-wide patterns, in any management intervention. We present a hierarchical decision-making tool in which we list 132 lion populations/lion conservation units and provide information on genetic assignment, uncertainty and suitability for translocation for each source/target combination. By including four levels of suitability, from 'first choice' to 'no option', we provide managers with a range of options. To illustrate the extent of international trade of lions, and the potential disruption of natural patterns of intraspecific diversity, we mined the CITES Trade Database for estimated trade quantities of live individuals imported into lion range states during the past 4 decades. We identified 1056 recorded individuals with a potential risk of interbreeding with wild lions, 772 being captive-sourced. Scoring each of the records with our decision-making tool illustrates that only 7% of the translocated individuals were 'first choice' and 73% were 'no option'. We acknowledge that other, nongenetic factors are important in the decision-making process, and hence a pragmatic approach is needed. A framework in which source/target populations are scored based on suitability is not only relevant to lion, but also to other species of wildlife that are frequently translocated. We hope that the presented overview supports managers to include genetics in future management decisions and contributes towards conservation of the lion in its full diversity.

Keywords: CITES; augmentation; captive; genetic variation; reintroduction; trade.