Like Local Cougars, Indian Tigers May Be Losing Genetic Diversity, Becoming Inbred

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.

animal animal photography big cat feline
Tigers are the largest cats in the world, Their numbers worldwide have dropped from an estimated 100,000 in 1900 to perhaps 5,000 in the wild today. There are many more in zoos, shelters and private hands than in the wild. today Photo by Pixabay on

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.

The ambitious Liberty Canyon project is designed to help save cougars and other local wildlife from inbreeding.

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.

photo of a cougar near a log
The National Park Service has been studying local mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains for about 20 years. Photo by Nicky Pe on

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.

Published by ursusrising

long time writer and editor living in Los Angeles

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