The Cape mountain zebra (Equus zebra zebra) has recovered from near extinction over more than eight decades. While their numbers have increased, populations remain isolated with low genetic diversity. With more than 75 new populations being founded and more than 4800 extant animals, conservation management strategies are being implemented to mitigate risk of losses in genetic diversity and reproductive fitness. One objective is to identify reproductive characteristics that may improve population growth. Cation channel sperm (CatSper) genes play an important role in hyperactivation of sperm during fertilization. Mutations in these genes lead to reduced fertility and even infertility. Ten male zebras were sampled from a group that were translocated in 2016 in order to found a new population. Single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) were identified in three of the CatSper genes (1 - 3). Lack of variation was observed in all exons, with only four SNPs being identified in the intronic regions in close proximity to exons 1, 2, 7, 8, and 9 of CatSper 1. These results may contribute to the pre-identification of males for new founder populations to ensure population growth and viability, and may be a useful tool for selection against low-producing individuals.
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The authors would also like to thank CapeNature and Sanbona Nature Reserve for their role in the collection of the samples. They thank the Professional Development Programme of the National Research Foundation and Department of Science and Technology of South Africa for supporting a doctoral fellow and the National Zoological Garden, South African National Biodiversity Institute for project funding to execute this study.
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