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Category — Cats

What Do Lion Cubs Like to Do Best? Play!

Just like human children, life for a lion cub is all about play, and our 6-month-old lion cubs – Willa, Uma and Kya – love to play!

Willa, Kya and Uma at play (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

Willa, Kya and Uma at play (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

So much more than just a fun way to pass the time, play also helps little lions develop and grow. By running, climbing and wrestling, they practice their gross motor skills and develop physical strength and coordination.

"I'm Queen of the World!" (Photo: DJJAM)

“I’m Queen of the World!” (Photo: DJJAM)

"Oh, no you don't!" (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

“Oh, no you don’t!” (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

Play is also enriching for their minds. Mental stimulation triggered by playing with each other and a variety of toys, which could be anything from a ball to a stick to Daddy’s mane, builds big, clever brains.

"I got it!" (Photo: Mark Dumont)

“I got it!” (Photo: Mark Dumont)

"Ouch!" (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

“Ouch!” (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

Social play like chasing, roughhousing and playing keep-away with each other is important for bonding. The pride that plays together, stays together!

"I'm going to get you!" (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

“I’m going to get you!” (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

Even Imani gets in on the fun! (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

Even Imani gets in on the fun! (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

Play also helps our budding predators practice and hone their stalking and hunting skills.

"Hey! That's my tail!" (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

“Hey! That’s my tail!” (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

"Pretend to be a buffalo, Dad" (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

“Pretend to be a buffalo, Dad” (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

In the wild, learning through play is critical to a lion’s survival. Over in Kenya’s South Rift Valley, where the Zoo partners on a community-based conservation program to restore healthy lion populations called Rebuilding the Pride, lioness Nasha’s three girls are growing up fast! Born in April 2014, these sisters are just over a year old. Researchers recently captured some of their playful antics on camera – a good sign that these cubs are developing and learning the skills they’ll need in future life.

Nasha's cubs (Photo: Guy Western & Sarah Malcolm)

Nasha’s cubs (Photo: Guy Western & Sarah Malcolm)

Nasha's cubs at play (Photo: Guy Western & Sarah Malcolm)

Nasha’s cubs at play (Photo: Guy Western & Sarah Malcolm)

When is the best time to catch our lion cubs at play? Your best bet is to visit the Africa exhibit first thing in the morning or much later in the day, avoiding the heat of the day when the lions are most likely to just be “lion” around. (Sorry for the bad pun. I just couldn’t resist.)

Our pride at rest (Photo: Kathy Newton)

Our pride at rest (Photo: Kathy Newton)

May 19, 2015   1 Comment

On Endangered Species Day, We Join a Nationwide Effort to Save Animals from Extinction

Today on the 10th anniversary of Endangered Species Day, the Zoo joins the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) and hundreds of other AZA-accredited institutions to raise awareness of their efforts to save animals from extinction and launch AZA SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE).

SAFE_logo_web

For decades, AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums have been leaders in species survival, and are already working to restore more than 30 species to healthy wild populations, including the American bison, the California condor and a variety of aquatic species.

American bison (Photo: Jack Dykinga)

American bison (Photo: Jack Dykinga)

AZA SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction combines the power of zoo and aquarium visitors with the resources and collective expertise of AZA-accredited institutions and partners to save animals from extinction. Together we are working on saving the most vulnerable wildlife species from extinction and protecting them for future generations. Through SAFE, these institutions will convene scientists and stakeholders globally to identify the factors threatening species, develop Conservation Action Plans, collect new resources and engage the public.

In 2015, SAFE will focus on 10 species and then add an additional 10 species each year for the next 10 years. The inaugural 10 species include: African penguin, Asian elephants, black rhinoceros, cheetah, gorilla, sea turtles, vaquita, sharks and rays, Western pond turtle and whooping crane.

Five of those first 10 species are ones that we care for and display here in Cincinnati, and with which we are involved in conservation efforts.

  • We help save African penguins by supporting the efforts of SANCCOB (Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds), a leading marine organization that rescues and rehabilitates ill, injured or abandoned African penguins among other threatened seabirds.

    African penguin (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

    African penguin (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

  • We support Asian elephant conservation in the wild through the International Elephant Foundation. Here at the Zoo, scientists at our Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) are working with partners to develop a field-friendly technique for collecting and cryopreserving Asian elephant semen to use in artificial insemination.

    Sabu, our male Asian elephant (Photo: David Jenike)

    Sabu, our male Asian elephant (Photo: David Jenike)

  • We support a community education project in Uganda that aims to reintroduce black and white rhinos to their original range in the country.

    Black rhinoceros (Photo: Kathy Newton)

    Black rhinoceros (Photo: Kathy Newton)

  • In addition to being a leader in captive cheetah breeding, the Zoo has supported and participated in many cheetah conservation field projects in Africa over the years. Also, our Cat Ambassador Program educates more than 150,000 people a year about cheetahs through on-site encounters and school outreach programs.

    Cheetah (Photo: Dave Jenike)

    Cheetah (Photo: Dave Jenike)

  • Well known for our breeding success with gorillas, the Zoo also supports the longest-running field study of western lowland gorillas in the wild, the Mbeli Bai study in the Republic of Congo.

    Gorillas (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

    Gorillas (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

 

Help Us Save Animals from Extinction

One of the easiest conservation actions you can take is to visit the Zoo! Doing so directly supports the collaborative efforts of hundreds of researchers, field conservationists and scientists from AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums working to save animals from extinction. So come on out to the Zoo this summer and show your support!

Visitors watch our black rhino run! (Photo:  Mark Dumont)

Visitors watch our black rhino run! (Photo: Mark Dumont)

May 15, 2015   No Comments

Glass Glass Baby: Birth of Healthy Kittens following Sperm Vitrification for Artificial Insemination

A world leader in small cat reproductive research, our Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) has successfully produced the first non-human offspring – two kittens – using vitrified sperm (semen preserved as glass instead of ice) for artificial insemination (AI).  Dr. Bill Swanson explains the significance of this breakthrough in this video.

Vito and Elsa, kittens produced from vitrified sperm

Vito and Elsa, kittens produced from vitrified sperm

Cryopreservation of cat semen for assisted reproduction can be challenging, requiring technical expertise and specialized equipment for semen collection, processing and freezing. As a simplified alternative to standard semen cryopreservation methods, CREW scientists have been investigating the use of vitrification – the ultra-rapid cooling of liquids to form a solid without ice crystal formation. This approach essentially preserves semen as glass instead of ice.

For vitrification, cat semen is diluted in a chemically-defined medium containing soy lecithin and sucrose as cryoprotectants and, after a five minute equilibration period, pipetted in small volumes (~30 microliters) directly into liquid nitrogen to form tiny glass marbles of frozen sperm.

In initial studies, we found that cat sperm survived vitrification as successfully as that frozen using standard straw freezing methods and that vitrified sperm were capable of fertilizing cat oocytes in vitro. In our first assessment of in vivo viability, eight of these embryos were transferred into three synchronized females. Although one female appeared to have two early implantations, no offspring were produced.

In a follow-up study, artificial insemination (AI) with vitrified sperm was assessed in three additional females. With our laparoscopic oviductal AI technique (LO-AI), only a couple million sperm are required per insemination, allowing the use of the relatively low sperm numbers that are preserved in vitrified semen pellets. Following LO-AI with vitrified sperm, all three females conceived, with two of the pregnancies progressing to term and culminating in the birth of two healthy kittens in early April. These kittens, a male named Vito (short for vitrification) and a female named Elsa (after the character in the movie Frozen), are the first non-human offspring – of any species – produced with vitrified sperm (although three human babies have been born from earlier research).

Vito and his mother, Ebony

Vito and his mother, Ebony

Elsa and her mother, Ivy

Elsa and her mother, Ivy

Our preliminary results with semen from fishing cats and ocelots indicate that vitrification is effective for preserving post-thaw sperm viability and function across cat species. These findings suggest that this fast and simple cryopreservation method may have broad applicability for semen banking of endangered felids housed in zoos and possibly living in the wild.

Jaci Johnson with Elsa and Vito

Jaci Johnson with Elsa and Vito

The study’s lead author, veterinary student Jaci Johnson, has been selected to present these findings at the upcoming American Association of Zoo Veterinarian’s Annual Meeting in Portland, Oregon. (Funded, in part, by the Procter & Gamble Wildlife Conservation Scholarship program in collaboration with Ohio State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.)

- Reprinted from the Spring 2015 CREW Progress Report

May 14, 2015   No Comments