South African Journal of Animal Science

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Evaluating horn traits of economic importance in sable antelope (Hippotragus niger niger)

G.C. Josling, A.A. Lepori, F.W.C. Neser, P.C. Lubout, J.B. van Wyk


Much of the economic value of wildlife can be attributed to horn size, which is an important trait for trophy hunters. The main objective of the study was to estimate genetic parameters for the economically important horn traits of sable antelope that are currently being measured in the South African industry. To date, no quantitative genetic analysis has been done for any traits in sable antelope. The total number of records included in the evaluation were n = 1713 for horn length (SHL), n = 1503 for circumference (SHC), n = 1486 for tip to tip (SHTT), n = 1505 for tip length (SHT), and n = 1447 for rings (SHR). Males and females were considered separately in six-month age clusters. A Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) multi-trait analysis was used to estimate (co)variance parameters for the horn traits. The results indicate a sex effect for all the traits and suggest that it is not economically viable to measure horn length of either sex after 54 months old. The horns of females are on average 40% shorter compared with bulls at maturity. Continuous horn growth throughout the lifetime of sable is suggested by the formation of ring posts, but is often masked by horn attrition and inadequate measuring techniques. An inbreeding coefficient of 0.0043 suggests adequate genetic diversity in the studied population. Heritability estimates of horn traits varied from 0.085 to 0.52, while genetic correlations ranged from 0.1 to 0.6 with the highest correlation being found between horn length and tip to tip. Further studies are recommended to confirm these results.

Keywords: Game, genetic evaluation, heritability

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