We report new demographic and genetic data on southern African camel (Camelus dromedarius) populations. Results from questionnaires on demography indicated that approximately 476 camels were extant in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana in 2003. We have sampled 234 camels for genetic analysis using a microsatellite marker set consisting of 12 loci. Results indicated little differentiation between camels from southern Africa, the Sudan or an outgroup from the family Camelidae, the alpaca (Lama pacos). Analysis of molecular variance (AMOVA) showed that -0.09% of total variation reside between species, 0.26% between the two southern African camel populations and 99.83% within populations. A coefficient of population differentiation (RST) indicated low levels of differentiation between southern African camel populations, with no specific pattern observed in pair-wise comparisons of 16 populations. An assignment test conformed to known population histories and provided additional support for the hypothesis of low differentiation between populations. There was no evidence of loss of genetic diversity in any individual population. Parentage analysis confirmed the utility of the microsatellite marker set for elucidating uncertain paternity. The results are discussed with reference to the management history of camels in the southern African region and the importance of population and parentage verification in the light of the many historic translocations.
"Experientia docet" - Experience is the best teacher