Saving Tigers

In spite of the long history of population genetics and its importance for the modern theory of natural section, genetic diversity concerns remain news—and hard-to-digest news—for most dog people. Why? Genetic culture for both professionals and nonprofessionals, especially but not only in the United States, has been shaped by medical genetics. Human genetic disease is the moral, technoscientific, ideological, and financial center of the medical genetic universe. Typological thinking reigns almost unchecked in this universe, and nuanced views of developmental biology, behavioral ecology, and genes as nodes in dynamic and multivectorial fields of vital interactions are only some of the crash victims of high-octane medical genetic fuels and gene-jockey racing careers.

Evolutionary biology, biosocial ecology, population biology, and population genetics (not to mention history of science, political economy, and cultural anthropology) have played a woefully small role in shaping public and professional genetic imaginations and all too small a role in drawing the big money for genetic research. Canine genetic diversity research received very little funding up to about 2000 and the explosion of comparative postgenomics. Pioneer canine genetic diversity scientists were Europeans in the early 1980s. Genetic diversity concerns in dog worlds developed as a wavelet in the set of breakers constituting transnational, globalizing, biological, and cultural diversity discourses, in which genomes are major players. Since the 1980s the emergence of biodiversity discourses, environmentalisms, and sustainability doctrines of every political color on the agendas of non-governmental organizations and institutions such as the World Bank, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, and the Organization for Economic

Cooperation and Development has been crucial.14 The notoriously problematic politics and the naturalcultural complexity of diversity discourses require a shelf of books, some of which have been written. I am compelled by the irreducible complexity—morally, politically, culturally, and scientifically—of diversity discourses, including those leashed to the genomes and gene pools of purebred dogs and their canine relatives in and out of what counts as "nature."

The last few paragraphs are preparation for logging on to the Canine Diversity Project Web site, owned by Dr. John Armstrong, a lover of standard and miniature poodles and a faculty member in the Department of Biology at the University of Ottawa, until his death on August 26, 2001.15 Armstrong widely distributed his analyses of the effects that a popular sire and a particular kennel have had on standard poodles. Also, as the owner of the Listserv CANGEN-L, Armstrong conducted collaborative research with dog health and genetics activists to study whether longevity is correlated to the degree of inbreeding. Their conclusion: It is. Aiming in the introductory sentence to draw the attention of dog breeders to "the dangers of inbreeding and the overuse of popular sires," the Diversity Project Web site started in 1997. Used by at least several hundred dog people of many nationalities, from January 2000 to June 2001 the site registered over thirty thousand logons.

Linda Weisser was a frequent visitor and vociferous advocate of this Web site in 2000-2001, but she was not a true believer in all the positions advocated by the population biologists on CANGEN-L. Open to change, she evaluated the diversity discourses in light of her hands-on experience in her breed over several decades. Along with Weisser and other dog people, I have learned a tremendous amount from the Web site. I still appreciate the quality of information, the controversies engaged, the care for dogs and people, the range of material, and the commitments to issues. I remain acutely alert professionally to the semiotics—the meaning-making machinery—of the Canine Diversity Project Web site. Some of that rhetorical machinery caused allergies in people like Weisser in the period around 2000.

Animated by a mission, the site still draws its users into its reform agenda. Some of the rhetorical devices are classical American tropes rooted in popular self-help practices and evangelical Protestant witness, devices so ingrained in U.S. culture that few users would be conscious of their history. For example, right after the introductory paragraph with the initial link terms, the Diversity Project Web site leads its users into a section called "How You Can Help." The heading works on the reader much like questions in advertising and preaching: Have you been saved? Have you taken the Immune Power pledge? (The latter is a slogan from an ad for a vitamin formulation in the 1980s.) Or, as the Diversity Project put the query, "Ask the Question—Do you need a 'Breed Survival Plan?'" This is the stuff of subject-reconstituting, conversion and conviction discourse.16

The first four highlighted linkage terms in the opening paragraphs of the Web site are popular sires, for many years a common term in purebred dog talk about the overuse of certain stud dogs and the consequent spreading of genetic disease; Species Survival Plans, a term that serves as a new link for dog breeders to zoos and the preservation of endangered species; wild cousins, which places dogs with their taxonomic kin and reinforces the consideration of purebreds within the family of natural (in the sense of "wild") and frequently endangered species; and inherited disease, in last place on the list and of concern primarily because a high incidence of double autosomal recessives for particular diseases is an index of lots of homozygosity in purebred dog genomes. Such high incidences of double recessives are related to excessive in- and linebreeding, and especially to overuse of popular sires, all of which are diversity-depleting practices. The soul of the Web site, however, is diversity itself in the semiotic framework of evolutionary biology, biodiversity, and biophilia, not diversity as an instrument for solving the problem of genetic disease. In that sense, "breeds" become like endangered species, inviting the apparatus of apocalyptic wildlife biology.

Constructed as a teaching instrument, the Web site approaches its audience as engaged lay breeders and other committed dog people. These are the subjects invited to declare support for a breed survival plan. Secondarily, scientists might learn from using the site, but they are more teachers here than researchers or students. Nonetheless, plenty of boundary objects link lay and professional communities of practice in the Canine Diversity Project. Further, a Web site by its nature resists reduction to single purposes and dominating tropes. Links lead many places;

these paths are explored by users, within the webs that designers spin but rapidly lose control over. The Internet is hardly infinitely open, but its degrees of semiotic freedom are many.

Popular sires is well enough recognized that this linking term will appeal to most dog people open to thinking about genetic diversity. For one thing, the link stays with dogs as the principal focus of attention and does not launch the user into a universe of marvelous creatures in exotic habitats whose utility as models for dogs is hard to swallow for many breeders, even those interested in such nondog organisms and ecologies in other contexts. Species Survival Plans, on the other hand, opens up controversial metaphoric and practical universes for breeders of purebred dogs, and, if such plans are taken seriously, they would require major changes in ways of thinking and acting. First, survival plans connotes that something is endangered. The line between a secular crisis and a sacred apocalypse is thin in U.S. discourse, where millennial matters are written into the fabric of the national imagination, from the first Puritan City on a Hill to Star Trek and its sequelae. Second, the prominent role given to species survival plans on the Canine Diversity Project Web site invites a reproductive tie between natural species and purebred dogs. In this mon-grelizing tie, the natural and the technical keep close company, semioti-cally and materially.

To illustrate, I dwell on the material on my screen in spring 2000 after I clicked on "Species Survival Plans" and followed up with a click on "Introduction to a Species Survival Plan."17 I was teleported to the Web site for the Tiger Information Center, and, appreciating a face-front photo of two imposing tigers crossing a stream, I encountered the article "Regional and Global Management of Tigers," by R. Tilson, K. Taylor-Holzer, and G. Brady. Lots of dog people love cats, contrary to stereotypes about folks being either canine or feline in their affections. But tigers in the world's zoos and in shrunken "forest patches spread from India across China to the Russian Far East and south to Indonesia" is a leap out of the kennel and the show ring or herding trials. I learned that three of the eight subspecies of tigers are extinct, a fourth is on the brink, and all the wild populations are stressed. Ideally, the goal of an SSP master blueprint for an endangered species is to create viable, managed, captive populations out of existing animals in zoos and some new "founders"

brought in from "nature," to maintain as much of the genetic diversity for all the extant taxa of the species as possible. The purpose is to provide a genetic reservoir for reinforcing and reconstituting wild populations. A practical SSP "because of space limitations generally targets 90% of genetic diversity of the wild populations for 100-200 years as a reasonable goal." I recognize both the hopefulness and the despair that inhere in that kind of reasonableness. The "Zoo Ark" for tigers has to be even more modest, because resources are too few and needs are too great.

An SSP is a trademarked complex, cooperative management program of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA), itself a controversial organization from the point of view of people committed to the well-being of individual tigers in captivity who are enlisted in an SSP. Developing and implementing an SSP involve a long list of companion species of organic, organizational, and technological kinds. A minimal account of these includes the World Conservation Union's specialist groups who make assessments of endangerment; member zoos, with their scientists, keepers, and boards of governors; a small management group under the AZA; a database maintained as a regional studbook, using specialized software like SPARKS (single population and records keeping system) and its companion programs for demographic and genetic analysis, produced by the International Species Information System; funders; national governments; international bodies; stratified local human populations; and, hardly least, the flesh-and-blood animals whose kind is categorically "endangered." Crucial operations within an SSP are measurements of diversity and relatedness. One wants to know founder importance coefficients (FIC) as a tool for equalizing relative founder contributions and minimizing inbreeding. Full, accurate pedigrees are precious objects for an SSP. Mean kinship (MK) and kinship values (KV) rule mate choice in this sociobiological system. "Reinforcing" wild species requires a global apparatus of technoscientific production, in which the natural and the technical have very high coefficients of semiotic and practical inbreeding.18

Purebred-dog breeders also value deep pedigrees, and they are accustomed to evaluating matings with regard to breed standards, which is a complex, unformulaic art. Inbreeding is not a new concern. So what is so challenging about an SSP as a universe of reference? The definition of populations and founders is perhaps first. Discussions among engaged breeders on CANGEN (i.e., people sufficiently interested in questions of genetic diversity to sign on and post to a specialized Listserv) showed that dog people's terms lines and breeds are not equivalent to wildlife biologists' and geneticists' populations. The behavior associated with these different words is distinct. A dog breeder educated in the traditional mentoring practices of the fancy will attempt through line breeding, with variable frequencies of outcrosses, to maximize the genetic or blood contribution of the truly "great dogs" who are rare and special. The great dogs are the individuals who best embody the type of the breed. The type is not a fixed thing, but a living, imaginative hope and memory. Kennels are recognized for the distinctiveness of their dogs, and breeders point proudly to their kennel's founders, and breed club documents point to the breed's founders. In the population geneticists' sense, the notion of working to equalize the contribution of all of the founders is truly odd in traditional dog breeders' discourse. Of course, an SSP, unlike nature and unlike dog breeders, is not operating with adaptational criteria of selection; the point of an SSP is to preserve diversity as such as a banked reservoir. This preservation could have doleful consequences several generations later in a program of reintroduction into demanding habitats in which genetically stabilized details of adaptation matter.

The SSP is a conservation management plan, not nature, however conceptualized, and not a breed's written standard or a breeder's interpretation of that standard. Like an SSP, a breed standard is also a large-scale action blueprint, but for purposes other than genetic diversity. Some breeders talk of those purposes in capital letters, as the Original Purpose of a breed. Other breeders are not typological in that sense; they are attuned to dynamic histories and evolving goals within a partly shared sense of breed history, structure, and function. These breeders are keenly aware of the need for selection on the basis of criteria that are as numerous and holistic as possible to maintain and improve a breed's overall quality and to achieve the rare, special dogs. They take these responsibilities seriously, and they are not virgins to controversy, contradiction, and failure. They are not against learning about genetic diversity in the context of the problems they know or suspect their dogs face. Some breeders—a very few, I think—embrace genetic diversity discourse and population genetics. They worry that the foundation of their breeds might be too narrow and getting narrower.

But the breeder's art does not easily entertain the adoption of the mathematical and software-driven mating systems of an SSP. Several courageous breeders insist on deeper pedigrees and calculations of coefficients of inbreeding, with efforts to hold them down. But the breeders I meet are loath to cede decisions to anything like a master plan. They do not categorize their own dogs or their breed primarily as biological populations. The dominance of specialists over local and lay communities in the SSP world does not escape dog breeders' attention. Most of the breeders I overhear squirm if the discussion stays on the level of theoretical population genetics and if few, if any, of the data come from dogs rather than from a Malagasy lemur population, a lab-bound mouse strain, or, worse still, fruit flies. In short, breeders' discourse and genetic diversity discourse do not hybridize smoothly, at least in the Fi generation. This mating is what breeders call a cold outcross, which they worry risks importing as many problems as it solves.

There is much more to the Canine Diversity Project Web site than the past and current SSP links. If I had space to examine the whole Web site, many more openings, repulsions, inclusions, attractions, and possibilities would be evident for seeing the ways dog breeders, health activists, veterinarians, and geneticists relate to the question of diversity. The serious visitor to the Web site could obtain a decent elementary education in genetics, including Mendelian, medical, and population genetics. Fascinating collaborations among individual scientists and breed club health and genetics activists would emerge. The differences within dog people's ways of thinking about genetic diversity and inbreeding would be inescapable, such as when the apocalyptic and controversial "evolving breeds" of Jeffrey Bragg and the Seppala Siberian sled dogs meet John Armstrong's more modest standard poodles (and his more moderate action plan, "Genetics for Breeders: How to Produce Healthier Dogs") or the differences between Leos Kral's and C. A. Sharp's ways of working in Australian shepherd worlds. Links would take the visitor to the extraordinary Code of Ethics of the Coton de Tulear Club of America and this breed's alpha-male geneticist-activist, Robert Jay Russell, as well as to the online documents with which the border collie Web site teaches genetics relevant to that talented breed. The visitor could follow links to the molecular evolution of the dog family, updated lists of gene tests in dogs, discussions of wolf conservation and taxonomic debates, accounts of a cross-breeding (to a pointer) and backcross project in Dalmatians to eliminate a common genetic disease and of importing new stock in African basenjis to deal with genetic dilemmas. One could click one's way to discussions of infertility, stress, and herpes infections or follow links to endocrine-disrupter discourse for thinking about how environmental degradation might affect dogs, as well as frogs and people, globally. Until Armstrong's death, right in the middle of the Diversity Project Web site was a boldtype invitation to join the Listserv that he ran for three years, the Canine Genetics Discussion Group (CANGEN-L), on which a sometimes rough and tumble exchange among lay and scientific dog people stirred up the Web site's pedagogical order.

So, in the active years of the Canine Diversity Project Web site's construction around 2000, dogs, not tigers—and breeds, not endangered species—dominated on it. But the metaphoric, political, scientific, and practical possibilities of those first links to the AZA's Species Survival Plan attached themselves like ticks on a nice blade of grass, waiting for a passing visitor from purebred dogland. The emergent ontologies of biodiversity naturecultures are laced with new ethical demands. In many ways, the expertise and practices of dog breeders remain in a relation of torque with the discourses of genetic diversity. Kin and kind mutate in these emergent apparatuses of dog (re)production. Whether companion species will flourish was and still is at stake.

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