Disease can dramatically influence the dynamics of endangered wildlife populations, especially when they are small and isolated, with increased risk of inbreeding. In Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (HiP), a small, enclosed reserve in South Africa, a large lion (Panthera leo) population arose from a small founder group in the 1960s and started showing conspicuous signs of inbreeding. To restore the health status of the HiP lion population, outbred lions were translocated into the existing population. In this study, we determined the susceptibility to bovine tuberculosis (bTB), and the prevalence of antibody to feline viruses of native lions, and compared the findings with those from translocated outbred lions and their offspring. Antibodies to feline herpesvirus, feline calicivirus, feline parvovirus, and feline coronavirus were present in the lion population, but there was no significant difference in antibody prevalence between native and translocated lions and their offspring, and these feline viruses did not appear to have an effect on the clinical health of HiP lions. However, feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), which was previously absent from HiP, appears to have been introduced into the lion population through translocation. Within 7 yr, the prevalence of antibody to FIV increased up to 42%. Bovine tuberculosis posed a major threat to the inbred native lion population, but not to translocated lions and their offspring. More than 30% of the native lion population died from bTB or malnutrition compared with <2% of the translocated lions and their offspring. We have demonstrated that management of population genetics through supplementation can successfully combat a disease that threatens population persistence. However, great care must be taken not to introduce new diseases into populations through translocation.
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Vol. 47 • No. 3