Genetic diversity: a challenge for successful antelope conservation

At the National Zoo of Rabat, a new conference on the theme of Sahelo-Saharan Antelope Conservation highlighted on 12th September the need to integrate the management of genetic diversity into Conservation programs in order to improve their chances of success.

Restoring extinct gazelles to areas where they once evolved is not an easy task. When it is not the species that has completely disappeared, and it is still possible to raise it in order to develop a population large enough to attempt reintroductions in the wild, arises a significant challenge: ensuring a genetic diversity that allows the population to survive the various hazards that will meet it.

In order to address this topic in depth, the National Zoo of Rabat – which is one of the essential missions is to contribute to the conservation of species by maintaining “founding nuclei” whose descendants may one day be released into the wild- organized this 12th of September, a conference on “The genetic diversity of Sahelo-Saharan antelopes: Management and impact on long-term conservation”.

Hosted by Dr. Helen Senn, Chief of Scientific Programs and Wildlife Conservation at the Royal Scottish Zoology Society, the event aimed to highlight the work of scientists on the genetic diversity of Saharan antelopes, in global genetic planning of these species.

After the introduction of the High Commissioner, Dr. Senn first explained the role played by genetics in conservation plans and for combating wildlife trafficking. The wild cat conservation program in England was set up as an example to illustrate an application of the genetic sciences in the monitoring of wild populations and especially, to know the degree of their hybridization with the domestic cat. Dr. Senn then explained the current situation of Sahelo-Saharan antelope, demonstrating that even if the number of individuals in captivity is not negligible, the success of reintroductions in the Nature will be largely conditioned by the genetic diversity present in the populations destined to regain their historic habitats after several decades of absence.

“The more genetically diverse a population is, the more likely it is to resist the diseases and climatic hazards it will encounter in the wild. On the other hand, even if we have a population whose number of individuals has become considerable, the fact that this population comes from a small core founder makes it poor genetically facing an illness for exemple, this population could simply be destroyed where another genetically richer population could resist, “Dr Senn explained.

In order to guarantee the success of the Sahelo-Saharan Gazelle conservation programs, it is necessary to put in place a global and open-ended management vision based on international cooperation that covers captive populations. “The idealized vision would be to involve the individuals and the various authorities of the countries concerned who manage captive populations of gazelles in order to plan a global management of the world population of these precious and particularly endangered species” confides Dr Senn conclude “We geneticists are no longer talking about extinction of species only, but also of “genes extinction” because the less genetic diversity within a species, the greater the probability of its extinction.”

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O.A
Founder of Ecologie.ma, Oussama Abaouss is a journalist specialized in the Natural Heritage of Morocco, a teacher of Environmental and Scientific Journalism at ILCS in Rabat, founder of the "tribe of Moroccan ecologists" and a member of the Moroccan Ornithological Group.

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