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Breeding of unique game requires a balance between conservation and sustainable use
2014-05-20

 

Game bred for qualities such as unconventional hair colour or horn quality, may on the long term have unexpected consequences for biodiversity and game farming.

This is according to the inaugural lecture of Prof Paul Grobler from the Department of Genetics at the University of the Free State (UFS).

Prof Grobler feels that the consequences of selective breeding should be examined carefully, as there is currently much speculation on the subject without sound scientific information to back it.

“At the moment, colour variation invokes much interest among game farmers and breeders. Unusual colour variants are already available in different game species. These unusual animals usually fetch much higher prices at auctions compared to prices for the ‘normal’ individuals of the species.”

Examples of these unusual variants are springbuck being bred in white, black or copper colours, the black-backed or ‘saddleback’ impala, and the gold-coloured and royal wildebeest.

A black-backed impala was recently sold for R5,7 million.

“Based on genetic theory, good reason exists why these practices need to be monitored, but one should also take care not to make the assumption that selective breeding will inevitably lead to problems,” warns Prof Grobler.

Grobler says that negative characteristics in a species can sometimes unwittingly be expressed during the selection process for a unique colour. “It is seen, for example, in purebred dogs where the breeding of a new race sometimes brings underlying genetic deviations in the species to the front.” He also believes that some of these animals may not be able to adapt to changing environmental conditions.

“However, one should also look at the positive side: because of the good demand for game, including unusual variants, there is much more game in South Africa today than in many decades. Balance should be found between the aims of conservation and the sustainable utilisation of game.”

Research at the UFS’s Department of Genetics is now trying to establish the genetic effects of intensive game breeding and predict the impact on biodiversity.

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