Conservation Genetics

, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp 69–77 | Cite as

Molecular genetic analysis of a captive-breeding program: the vulnerable endemic Jamaican yellow boa

  • Athanasia C. Tzika
  • Christophe Remy
  • Richard Gibson
  • Michel C. MilinkovitchEmail author
Research Article


The endemic Jamaican boa (or “yellow boa”, Epicrates subflavus) is a vulnerable species of the Caribbean biodiversity hotspot whose natural populations greatly declined mainly due to predation by introduced species, human persecution, and habitat destruction. A captive breeding program was initiated in 1976 and rationalized in 2002 by the establishment of a European Endangered Species Program. During the last 30 years, more than 600 offspring, of which 80 are still alive today, have been produced and distributed among European host institutions and privates. Here, using nine nuclear microsatellite loci and a fragment of the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene, we (i) determine the natural population from which the founders originate, (ii) identify parental allocation errors and ambiguities in the studbook, and (iii) assess the genetic diversity and estimate levels of inbreeding of the current captive population based on loss of alleles, variance in reproductive success, and relatedness among individuals. Combining measures of relatedness derived from multilocus genotypes with practical parameters such as age of animals and localization of host institutions, we propose mating groups that would maximize genetic diversity in the captive population of the Jamaican boa. Our analyses provide guidance for a more efficient breeding program that, in turn, could be used as the starting point of a repatriation program to increase the probability of the species long-term survival.


Conservation genetics Captive breeding Boidae Epicrates Jamaica 



We thank Les Basford of the Birmingham Nature Center (UK), Ann Williams of the Blackpool Zoo (UK), Gary Watts of the Broxbourne Paradise Wildlife Park (UK), Louise Peat of the Cotswold Wildlife Park (UK), Gwen Fraser of the Chessington World of Adventures (UK), Kevin Buley of the Chester Zoo (UK), Quentin Bloxam and Amy Hall of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust (Jersey, UK), Aleš Toman of the Zoologicka Zohrada Jihlava (Czech Republic), Patricia Vilarinho of the Lisboa Jardim Zoologico (Portugal), Wlodzimierz Stanislawski of the Lodz Miejski Ogrod Zoologiczny (Poland), Richard Gibson of the Zoological Society of London (UK), Mathieu Bufkens and Laurent Vienne of the Musée d’Histoire Naturelle de Tournai (Belgium), and Sergei Ryabov of the Tula Exotarium (Russian Federation) for the samples provided. We thank Marie-Anne Vaesen for technical help. This work was supported by grants from the ‘Communauté Française de Belgique’ (ARC 1164/20022770), the National Fund for Scientific Research Belgium (FNRS), and the Université Libre de Bruxelles. A.C. Tzika is PhD candidate financially supported by the Fonds pour la formation à la Recherche dans l’Industrie et dans l’Agriculture (FRIA), Belgium. Susan Koenig (Windsor Research Center, Jamaica) provided very useful comments on a previous version of the manuscript. The samples are recorded under the import CITES permits 2006BE346-349/PE.

Supplementary material

10592_2008_9519_MOESM1_ESM.doc (36 kb)
Suggested new mating groups of Jamaican boas for the captive breeding program. Groups were designed by minimizing movements among host institutions and relatedness values of each possible females/male pair within groups. The identification numbers of unsampled individuals are shaded and of sub-adults (<6 years old) are underlined. The minimum, maximum, and mean relatedness values within each group are given (na, not applicable). (DOC 36 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Athanasia C. Tzika
    • 1
  • Christophe Remy
    • 2
  • Richard Gibson
    • 3
    • 4
  • Michel C. Milinkovitch
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Laboratory of Evolutionary Genetics, Institute for Molecular Biology & MedicineUniversité Libre de Bruxelles (ULB)GosseliesBelgium
  2. 2.Museum of Natural History and VivariumTournaiBelgium
  3. 3.Durrell Wildlife Conservation TrustJerseyBritish Isles, UK
  4. 4.Zoological Society of London, Regent’s ParkLondonUK

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