Molecular tracking and prevalence of the red colour morph restricted to a harvested leopard population in South Africa

Laura Tensen, John Power, Gerrie Camacho, Raquel Godinho, Bettine Jansen van Vuuren, Klaus Fischer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


The red leopard (Panthera pardus) colour morph is a colour variant that occurs only in South Africa, where it is confined to the Central Bushveld bioregion. Red leopards have been spreading over the past 40 years, which raises the speculation that the prevalence of this phenotype is related to low dispersal of young individuals owing to high off-take in the region. Intensive selective hunting tends to remove large resident male leopards from the breeding population, which gives young male leopards the chance to mate with resident female leopards that are more likely to be their relatives, eventually increasing the frequency of rare genetic variants. To investigate the genetic mechanisms underlying the red coat colour morph in leopards, and whether its prevalence in South Africa relates to an increase in genetic relatedness in the population, we sequenced exons of six coat colour-associated genes and 20 microsatellite loci in twenty Wild-type and four red leopards. The results were combined with demographic data available from our study sites. We found that red leopards own a haplotype in homozygosity identified by two SNPs and a 1 bp deletion that causes a frameshift in the tyrosinase-related protein 1 (TYRP1), a gene known to be involved in the biosynthesis of melanin. Microsatellite analyses indicate clear signs of a population bottleneck and a relatedness of 0.11 among all pairwise relationships, eventually supporting our hypothesis that a rare colour morph in the wild has increased its local frequency due to low natal dispersal, while subject to high human-induced mortality rate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1028-1041
Number of pages14
JournalEvolutionary Applications
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022


  • Panthera pardus
  • TYRP1 mutation
  • colour morphs
  • inbreeding
  • leopard
  • population genetics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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