Population fragmentation is threatening biodiversity worldwide. Species that once roamed
vast areas are increasingly being conserved in small, isolated areas. Modern management
approaches must adapt to ensure the continued survival and conservation value of these
populations. In South Africa, a managed metapopulation approach has been adopted for
several large carnivore species, all protected in isolated, relatively small, reserves that are
fenced. As far as possible these approaches are based on natural metapopulation structures.
In this network, over the past 25 years, African lions (Panthera leo) were reintroduced
into 44 fenced reserves with little attention given to maintaining genetic diversity. To examine
the situation, we investigated the current genetic provenance and diversity of these
lions. We found that overall genetic diversity was similar to that in a large national park, and
included a mixture of four different southern African evolutionarily significant units (ESUs).
This mixing of ESUs, while not ideal, provides a unique opportunity to study the impact of
mixing ESUs over the long term. We propose a strategic managed metapopulation plan to
ensure the maintenance of genetic diversity and improve the long-term conservation value
of these lions. This managed metapopulation approach could be applied to other species
under similar ecological constraints around the globe.