South Africa is somewhat unique in that a large proportion of our biodiversity reside in private ownership. As such, the custodianship and protection of species reside with the State, Provincial Authorities as well as Private Entities. Individuals therefore play an important role in ensuring the protection and continued survival of a large number of species. Given the high commercial value of economically important species, animals are frequently translocated across large geographic distances. These translocations often happen in the absence of accurate scientific information about genetic provinces or distinct gene pools. Conservation management actions and permitting decisions that is based on inaccurate data is at best inefficient, and may even lead be to the detriment of the species.
To assist in making accurate decisions regarding permitting or breeding of wildlife species, we apply our research on roan and sable antelope, and offer a service to determine the genetic provenance of animals. This information is critically important in ensuring the continued existence of lineages with different evolutionary trajectories.
Summary of research findings on roan antelope
Roan antelope is distributed across sub-Saharan Africa. Originally there were six (6) recognized subspecies based on colour and other morphological differences (Ansell 1971). Following a scientific study that included both mitochondrial and nuclear markers, we report the presence of two distinct Evolutionary Significant Units (ESUs). These include animals from West Africa (known as the koba-group), with the second distinct group comprising animals from East, Central and Southern Africa (known as the rest). There is no distinction between animals naturally occurring in East, Central and Southern Africa based on nuclear marker, with subtle differences for mitochondrial markers.
Summary of research findings on sable antelope
Sable antelope is one of the enigmatic large antelope species of Africa. Four (4) subspecies were originally described based on phenotypic differences across their range (Ansell 1971). DNA data (Pitra et al, Mol Ecol 2002 volume 11, pages 1197 – 1208) uncovered the existence of three (3) genetic groups with some correspondence to the subspecies described by Ansell. The most striking difference was that sable antelope naturally occurring in Zambia was not that different to those south of the Zambezi River, with a unique and very distinct group of antelope in Tanzania. In 2006, we documented the re-discovery of the giant sable in Angola; these magnificent animals were believed extinct due to civil unrest. In 2010, following years of speculation in the popular media, we demonstrated that animals originally brought to South Africa from Western Zambia group with others from Zambia and are very different to Giant sable.
A complete understanding of the evolutionary history of a species, including current management, requires information from both mitochondrial and nuclear DNA. Through a large, multi-national collaborations, the CIBIO / InBio [https://cibio.up.pt] developed a suite of 57 microsatellite markers for sable antelope. The development of such a unique set of markers allows for a refined and unprecedented understanding of sable antelope evolution. Through this, we are now able to provide important data to guide sable antelope conservation and management.
The collaboration include researchers from CIBIO / InBio in Portugal (Prof Nuno Ferrand, Dr Raquel Godinho, Pedro Vaz Pinto), the MolZooLab at the University of Johannesburg (Bettine van Vuuren) and the University of Copenhagen (Hans Siegismund) [http://research.ku.dk].