Translocating lions into an inbred lion population in the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, South Africa

31 March 2008

A fundamental problem in conservation biology is the risk of inbreeding in fragmented and declining populations. In the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (HiP), a small, enclosed reserve in South Africa, a large lion Panthera leo population arose from a founder group of five individuals in the 1960s. The HiP lion population went through a persistent decline and showed indications of inbreeding depression. To restore the genetic variation of the inbred HiP lion population, new lions were translocated into the existing population. Translocated females formed stable associations and established enduring pride areas with other translocated lionesses, but did not bond into native female prides. The translocated male coalition was more successful in gaining and maintaining residence in a pride than the translocated lone male that split off on his own from the male coalition. Litter size and cub survival was about twice as high for pairings involving at least one translocated parent than for pairings of two native lions. It is therefore possible to infuse new genes rapidly and successfully into a small, isolated lion population. Such translocations may become an important adaptive management tool as lion populations become increasingly fragmented.