Local cougar lovers are hopeful that a soon-to-be-built freeway overcrossing for wildlife may help save area cougars from inbreeding. Something similar may be needed in India to protect tigers there.
A recent study says that tigers in India are showing possible signs of inbreeding. India is home to 70 percent of the world’s free-roaming tigers. Inbreeding could be a disaster for the species. The article was published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution. Locally the problem is mostly due to freeways which carve up the cat’s habitat. Freeways make seeking new territory to find a mate hazardous. The situation in India is similar but caused less by freeways than by fragmented habitat caused by human settlement.
The study examined 65 tigers from four of the five surviving tiger subspecies. Some lists contain the South China Tiger, but many experts consider it extinct. The study found Indian tigers (Bengal tigers) were more genetically diverse than their cousins from other parts of Asia. Tigers from the north were more diverse than those from the south, suggesting inbreeding. The study authors expressed uncertainty about whether inbreeding would adversely impact survival.
Undescended testicles and low sperm count found in local cats cause biologists to fear infertility leading to a dearth of healthy cubs.
The problem is essentially the same in both locales. Cats hemmed in by urbanization eventually mate with close relatives. There are more tigers in India than cougars locally so the damage would likely be slower to show up.
The solution is the same in both areas. Find ways to connect separated populations and be sure the cats will use the pathway. The Liberty Canyon project provides a wide, inviting and natural looking pathway across the busy 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills. Ground breaking may take place as early as February with the project completed sometime in 2023.