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Keeping Animals' Diversity

Researchers in South Africa are concerned that breeding experiments will lead to a loss of genetic diversity among animals like lions, cheetahs, and rhinoceroses, the Guardian reports

According to the Guardian, the South African government modified the Animal Improvement Act last year to permit the domestication and "genetic improvement" of about two dozen animal species. It adds that game farmers in the country have been breeding higher numbers of "novel trophy animals" for which hunters pay more.

Researchers led by the University of Pretoria's Michael Somers write in the South African Journal of Science that this will not improve these species' genetics, but harm them. "Intensive and semi-intensive breeding invariably leads to small isolated (closed) populations because it is the quickest way to produce a desired phenotype," they argue in their paper. "These populations lose genetic diversity through artificial selection for the so-called superior traits, as well as through genetic drift (a consequence of small populations) and lack of gene flow (a consequence of isolation)."

They add that a "logical endpoint of this legislation is that we will have two populations of each species: one wild and one domesticated."