South Africa’s move to allow farming of lions and other wildlife is a bad idea, scientists say

Science | AAAS | 1/29/2020 | Staff
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A decision by South Africa’s government to include more than 30 wild species—including rhinos, lions, and cheetahs—on a list of animals that can be improved by breeding and genetic research could cause considerable damage to their genetic diversity, scientists warn today in the South African Journal of Science.

The decision, announced in May 2019 without prior public consultation, provides “a legal mechanism to domesticate wildlife,” says Graham Kerley, a zoologist at Nelson Mandela University and one of the paper’s authors. He says the amendment lets South Africa’s growing number of game breeders register associations that can determine what a lion, or cheetah, should look like. That creates a “loophole” that would allow breeders to select for commercially desirable traits such as longer horns or larger body size—something that isn’t allowed under the country’s legislation for wildlife, he says. Such selective breeding could have “severe” genetic consequences for the animals, the scientists write.

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It’s the second time wild species have been included on the list. In 2016, the government included 12 antelope species, including wildebeests and impalas. Then, too, conservationists opposed the move, but were unable to reverse the decision. The inclusion this time of some of the country’s most iconic wildlife species has further fueled the criticism, and opponents have launched legal challenges to the amendment.

Researchers say breeding aimed at enhancing certain traits could create genetic bottlenecks by promoting a few stud lines over the rest. That’s a common occurrence when animals are domesticated by modern intensive breeding, the paper notes. It could also result in species developing into two populations, one domesticated and one wild, it adds.

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But keeping the wild and domesticated populations separate would be expensive—if it’s even possible, the authors write. “Domesticated varieties of wildlife will represent a novel, genetic pollution threat to...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Science | AAAS
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