Dark grey gazelles Gazella (Cetartiodactyla: Bovidae) in Arabia: Threatened species or domestic pet?
True gazelles (genus Gazella) are a prime example of a mammalian group with considerable taxonomic confusion. This includes the descriptions of several dark grey taxa of questionable validity. Here, we examined captive dark grey putative Neumann’s gazelle Gazella erlangeri. Our concerted efforts to retrieve mitochondrial sequence information from old museum specimens of two dark grey gazelles, putative G. erlangeri and putative Muscat gazelle G. muscatensis, were unsuccessful. We did, however, find the mtDNA haplotypes of extant putative G. erlangeri to be nested within the haplotype variation of the Arabian gazelle G. arabica. The observed population genetic divergence between G. arabica and putative G. erlangeri (based on 11 nuclear microsatellites) was driven by genetic impoverishment of putative G. erlangeri. These results, along with morphological signatures of domestication (e.g., reduced brain case size), suggest genetic bottle necks and domestication effects as a consequence of prolonged captive breeding. Three hypotheses are discussed: (a) G. erlangeri and/or G. muscatensis are valid species but are now extinct; (b) one or both taxa represent phenotypic variation within G. arabica and, therefore, are synonyms of G. arabica; and (c) captive stocks, exhibiting the effects of domestication and inbreeding, are the sources for the descriptions of G. erlangeri and G. muscatensis. As concerns the conservation of gazelles, based on current knowledge, we strongly advise against using putative G. erlangeri for any introduction initiative but recommend the continued captive management of putative G. erlangeri.