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Ungulates are big business. They have been moved around the globe for centuries for food and hunting and continue to be moved to satisfy the lucrative game ranching and hunting industries. At a grander scale controversial proposals have been developed to re-wild continents with analogues of their Pleistocene megafaunas.

A study by Dian Spear and Steven Chown has shown that introductions of similar species to different countries around the world have made ungulate assemblages more similar globally to a larger extent than extinctions have. Nonetheless, in some instances ungulate assemblages in neighbouring countries have become more different due to the introduction of different ungulate species.

Countries with the most introduced ungulates also have the most non-indigenous ungulates in their zoos. Over 100 non-indigenous ungulates species have been sold from zoos to non-zoo owners in 32 countries globally since 1970. The sale of surplus animals to private landowners rather than to other zoos may inadvertently be contributing to conservation problems.

The study also focussed on South Africa. Homogenization in South Africa was found to increase with time. The movement of the country’s many indigenous ungulates outside their natural distribution ranges has changed ungulate biotas more than introductions from outside the country. The former extralimital introductions have increased the similarity of spatially disjunct ungulate assemblages, whereas the extraregional introductions have led to differentiation of assemblages.

In the past, introductions in South Africa were made to increase the economic viability of marginal areas, but more recently, non-indigenous ungulates are being introduced to more densely populated, wealthy areas perhaps to take advantage of a growing sport hunting and ecotourism market.

This study has just been published in the Journal of Biogeography 35, 1962-1975, see: doi:10.1111/j.1365-2699.2008.01926.x