Could inbreeding kill off India's Brow-Antlered deer? A study being conducted by the Alipore Zoological Gardens is hoping to find the answer.

A critically endangered species, there are only 100 or so Brow-Antlered deer (Cervus eldii) left in the wild, all of which live in their sole habitat at Manipur's Keibul Lamjao National Park. Around 170 more deer live in 16 zoos across India, and those 170 are all the descendents of two breeding pairs captured in the 1950s and 1960s. After 50 years of breeding with a limited gene pool, the captive deer are at high risk developing genetic defects which could put them at further risk.

Meanwhile, the wild population has maintained fairly stable numbers for the past 50 years, and also faces a limited gene pool. The Alipore zoo study hopes to come up with enough information to develop a conservation plan for the species.

It should be noted that Alipore has come under fire several times in recent years for the conditions of their habitats and cages, and for their lack of solid breeding programs. Hopefully this is a sign of change.

Story by John Platt. This article originally appeared in Plenty in August 2007.

Copyright Environ Press 2007