The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies
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Antelope conservation aided by genetic management

Effective conservation of oryx populations underscores successful reintroduction in the wild.

A species of antelope that was extinct in the wild at the beginning of the century is thriving once again thanks in part to the effective management of captive populations, research suggests.

Hundreds of scimitar-horned oryx have been successfully reintroduced into Chad, North Africa, following decades of management that has minimised inbreeding and maintained variation in the DNA of captive populations.

Findings from a study of captive oryx populations around the world underscores the value of genetic management for supporting species viability and preventing future extinctions. The outcomes are helping to inform the reintroduction scheme, led by the Abu Dhabi government.

Genome analysis

Researchers led by the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies examined the impact of genetic management of the oryx species by selecting individuals from captive populations around the world.

Scientists studied data from DNA analysis of 49 oryx from four populations, two of which were managed groups from Europe and the US, and two unmanaged, from the United Arab Emirates.

They looked for evidence of inbreeding and for the presence of harmful genetic mutations, which can raise the risk of ill health.

Genetic mutations were found to have a reduced burden in managed groups of oryx compared with unmanaged populations. This suggests that even where such mutations are common, conservation management to maximise genetic diversity will likely mask their effects.

Additionally, oryx from managed populations were found to have lower levels of inbreeding.

Their findings have implications for the programme that releases oryx from captive populations around the world in large numbers, to maximise mixing and population growth.

The practice has introduced 250 animals over five years and the wild population in Chad has since grown, with the birth of many calves, to almost 400. All these animals are believed to be descended from fewer than 100 animals originating from Chad in the 1960s.

The study in collaboration the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and partners in the US and Abu Dhabi, was published in PNAS.

Our study highlights the relationships between inbreeding, genetic mutations and population size and has broad implications for genetic management and conservation of species at a time of climate change, habitat loss and overexploitation.

Dr Emily HumbleRoyal Dick School of Veterinary Studies

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Scientific publication

Image credit: Justin Chuven

About the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies

The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies is a one-of-a-kind centre of excellence in clinical activity, teaching and research. Our purpose-built campus, set against the backdrop of the beautiful Pentland Hills Regional Park, is home to more than 800 staff and almost 1400 students, all of whom contribute to our exceptional community ethos.

The School comprises:

The Roslin Institute

The Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems

The Roslin Innovation Centre

The Hospital for Small Animals

Equine Veterinary Services

Farm Animal Services

Easter Bush Pathology

The Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education

We represent the largest concentration of animal science-related expertise in Europe, impacting local, regional, national and international communities in terms of economic growth, the provision of clinical services and the advancement of scientific knowledge.