Random header image... Refresh for more!

Category — Cats

Pushing the Envelope on Frozen Semen Fertility with Gek the Pallas’ Cat

Back in the early 1990s, an eager young post-doctoral fellow was hired to study cat reproduction at the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park. One of his first projects involved a small-sized, little-known Central Asian felid called the Pallas’ cat (Otocolobus manul).

Pallas' cat (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

Pallas’ cat on exhibit in Night Hunters (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

At the time, there was a grand total of one male Pallas’ cat in all U.S. zoos – a wild-born Mongolian cat named Gek. The post-doc dutifully collected and evaluated Gek’s semen every two months for almost two years and, for the first time, documented the extreme reproductive seasonality typical of this species. Concurrently, he froze Gek’s semen for long-term storage.

Fast forward 22 years later. That post-doc, Dr. Bill Swanson, is now CREW’s Director of Animal Research, and in early 2015, found himself in desperate need of frozen Pallas’ cat semen. Fortuitously, he previously had acquired Gek’s samples from the National Zoo. Frozen semen from Gek and two other males was used for laparoscopic oviductal artificial insemination (LO-AI) of four Pallas’ cats at three U.S. zoos (Cincinnati, Columbus, Pueblo). Two of those cats appeared to conceive; however, only the Columbus Zoo female subsequently gave birth. Her single kitten was fully developed, but, unfortunately, stillborn.

Dr. Swanson with his little buddy Gek in 1993

Dr. Swanson with his little buddy Gek in 1993

Notably, the father of that kitten was … (drum roll, please) …Gek! The pregnancies and birth were the first ever with frozen semen in Pallas’ cats but also established a new longevity record for frozen semen fertility in any wildlife species. Additional LO-AIs using Gek’s frozen samples are planned for 2016 – hopefully followed by the birth of healthy kittens this time around. Long-live Gek!

(Funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services)

February 12, 2016   3 Comments

Sara. Remembrance of a life well lived.

By: Cathryn Hilker, Founder of the Cincinnati Zoo’s Cat Ambassador Program

cathryn_sarah2

Cathryn and Sara in 2000

As so many cheetahs before her, Sara came to live on our Mason farm when she was 5 weeks old. We intended to raise her with an Anatolian shepherd dog so she could have a companion for herself but also a companion who could speak to the program of wildlife management in Namibia where these dogs are widely used for predator control.  Captive cheetah are often raised with a dog, as they make excellent companions, but not always. As soon as this little cheetah named Sara saw our little Anatolian puppy the cat attacked the dog with such a ferocious attitude that I had to separate them.  Their relationship became even worse over the next several days until I sent the puppy back and got a much bigger and older Anatolian dog. This change worked well and Sara and Alexa where lifelong companions.  They did school shows, summer shows, tv appearances and much more until Alexa retired, leaving Sara to continue alone. Upstairs she went, downstairs, elevators, moving stairs. She did all that and more, never failing to do her part.

puppypals

Sara and her companion Lexi

The joy of running is in the heart and the ancient memory of every cheetah. Sara was no different. At home in her first few weeks we only did short runs in her fenced in yard but the day came when I wanted to see how much Sara could do. I was there with her when the joy and the play of running suddenly turned serious for her.  It was a Reds baseball cap that triggered her natural instinct to run with utter resolution. To chase, to catch, to hold. I could hardly get the cap away from her. Then she knew what running meant to the cheetah. It made her break her own record for speed, when the National Geographic filmed her, at age 11, running 61 mph. 100 meters in 5.95 seconds.

sarah

She will be remembered by thousands of school children who heard her loud purr or heard her nails clicking on the table top where she stayed during the program. My memories are imprinted in my heart and mind of a tiny brave little cheetah who grew up and turned into the elegant animal that the mature cheetah is. The claw marks from her tiny little claws when she was a cub remain on my bedspread to this day and the hole she chewed through my zoo jacket and the awkward job I did of sewing it up will remain there for the rest of my life.

sarah_spots_lo

photo by Jill Halpin

We will miss Sara’s eyes, fixed on our eyes, always asking “what next”?  Indeed Sara, what next, in your giant shadow of grace other cheetahs will follow your lead and our race to educate and tell your story so that your species can always be, waiting to answer “what next”.

January 22, 2016   38 Comments

Tiger News: Changing our Stripes

If you’ve visited Cat Canyon over the past month or so, you may have noticed the absence of the Malayan tiger brothers, Taj and Who-Dey. We bid a fond farewell to these boys in November and wish them well in their new home at the Sunset Zoo in Manhattan, Kansas (where they will be known by the names Hakim and Malik).

Farewell Taj and Who-Dey! (Photo: DJJAM)

Farewell Taj and Who-Dey! (Photo: DJJAM)

While they will certainly be missed, we are excited to announce the arrival of a new pair of Malayan tigers, two-year-old female, Cinta, and 14-year-old male, Jalil.

Jalil was actually born here at the Cincinnati Zoo back in 2001. He spent a few years at the Jackson Zoo before returning to Cincinnati in 2007 and siring our most recent litter of cubs in 2009. When Cat Canyon underwent renovation in 2011, Jalil was transferred to the Dickerson Park Zoo in Springfield, Missouri. With Jalil’s return and recommended pairing with Cinta through the Malayan Tiger Species Survival Plan, we are excited about the prospect of having tiger cubs at the Zoo again.

Jalil (Photo: Melinda Arnold Dickerson Park Zoo)

Jalil (Photo: Melinda Arnold Dickerson Park Zoo)

That is, of course, as long as Jalil and Cinta are compatible. Cinta comes to us from Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida. This will be her first pairing. The pair is currently settling into adjacent quarters off exhibit in the Night Hunters building. The next step will be to provide them visual contact with each other, followed by physical introduction when Cinta is reproductively receptive.

If all goes well, the pair will go on exhibit together in Cat Canyon this spring when the weather warms up a bit, and we could hear the pitter patter of tiny tiger paws as soon as this summer. Keep your fingers crossed!

Cinta (Photo: Busch Gardens)

Cinta (Photo: Busch Gardens)

Meanwhile, the Zoo continues to support Panthera’s Tigers Forever initiative to study and protect tigers in the wild. Do you ever wonder who is actually on the ground in the forests where tigers roam, installing camera traps and monitoring illegal human activities? Meet Wai Yee, a young Malaysian woman who does just that in her role as a Project Manager with Tigers Forever in one of Panthera’s recent blog posts.

We are proud to play a role in maintaining a healthy tiger population in zoos while also supporting field research and conservation in the wild. And you can take pride in knowing that your support of the Zoo is helping to save tigers.

January 12, 2016   4 Comments