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Minimum population size, genetic diversity, and social structure of the Asian elephant in Cat Tien National Park and its adjoining areas, Vietnam, based on molecular genetic analyses

Vidya, T. N. C., Varma, Surendra, Dang, Nguyen X., Van Thanh, T., Sukumar, R.
Conservation genetics 2007 v.8 no.6 pp. 1471-1478
Elephas maximus, anthropogenic activities, genetic techniques and protocols, genetic variation, haplotypes, microsatellite repeats, national parks, population dynamics, population size, social structure, Vietnam
Vietnam's elephant population that has suffered severe declines during the past three decades is now believed to number 60-80 individuals in the wild. Cat Tien National Park is thought to be one of the key areas for the recovery of Vietnam's elephants. We carried out a molecular genetic study of elephants in Cat Tien National Park and its adjoining areas with the objectives of estimating minimum population size, assessing genetic diversity, and obtaining insights into social organization. We obtained a minimum population size of 11 elephants based on a combination of unique nuclear microsatellite genotypes and mitochondrial haplotypes. While mitochondrial diversity based on a 600-base pair segment was high in this small sample of individuals, the six microsatellite loci examined showed low diversity and the signature of a recent population bottleneck. Along with nuclear genetic depauperation of Cat Tien's elephants, we also report disruption of normal social organization, with different matrilines having coalesced into a single social group because of anthropogenic disturbance. The results emphasize the critical condition of this elephant population and the need for urgent conservation measures if this population is to be saved.