Genetic diversity, relatedness and inbreeding of ranched and fragmented Cape buffalo populations in southern Africa

19 Apr 2021

Wildlife ranching, although not considered a conventional conservation system, provides a sustainable model for wildlife utilization and could be a source of valuable genetic material. However, increased fragmentation and intensive management may threaten the evolutionary potential and conservation value of species. Disease-free Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer caffer) in southern Africa exist in populations with a variety of histories and management practices. We compared the genetic diversity of buffalo in national parks to private ranches and found that, except for Addo Elephant National Park, genetic diversity was high and statistically equivalent. We found that relatedness and inbreeding levels were not substantially different between ranched populations and those in national parks, indicating that breeding practices likely did not yet influence genetic diversity of buffalo on private ranches in this study. High genetic differentiation between South African protected areas highlighted their fragmented nature. Structure analysis revealed private ranches comprised three gene pools, with origins from Addo Elephant National Park, Kruger National Park and a third, unsampled gene pool. Based on these results, we recommend the Addo population be supplemented with disease-free Graspan and Mokala buffalo (of Kruger origin). We highlight the need for more research to characterize the genetic diversity and composition of ranched wildlife species, in conjunction with wildlife ranchers and conservation authorities, in order to evaluate the implications for management and conservation of these species across different systems.