Management of hybridization in an endemic species: decision making in the face of imperfect information in the case of the black wildebeest—Connochaetes gnou
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Hybridization between introduced and endemic ungulates, resulting from anthropogenic actions, has been reported for several species. Several studies of such events contain the common themes of extralimital movements, problematic phenotypic and genetic detection, and imperfect management. In southern Africa, the endemic black wildebeest (Connochaetes gnou) currently faces a serious threat of hybridization and introgression. This species survived near extinction and consequent genetic bottlenecks in the late 1800s and in the 1930s. Initiatives by private farmers followed by conservation authorities led to a dramatic recovery in numbers of this species. However, in an ironic twist, the very same advances in conservation and commercial utilisation which led to the recovery of numbers are now themselves threatening the species. Injudicious translocation has brought the species into contact with its congener, the blue wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus), and in recent times, hybridization between the species has occurred at numerous localities in South Africa. Consequently, a significant proportion of the national black wildebeest population potentially carries a proportion of introgressed blue wildebeest genetic material. We discuss completed and ongoing attempts to find molecular markers to detect hybrids and highlight the difficulty of detecting advanced backcrosses. Additional avenues of research, such as work on morphology (cranial and postcranial elements), estimating of the probability of introgression and modelling of diffusion rates are also introduced. In addition to the difficulty in detecting hybrid animals or herds, the lack of consensus on the fate of hybrid herds is discussed. Finally, in an environment of imperfect information, we caution against implementation of management responses that will potentially induce a new genetic bottleneck in C. gnou.