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Category — CREW

Elvis the Beagle’s Polar Bear Pregnancy Test Results

According to Elvis, it’s going to be another disappointing year for polar bear births. There is no pregnancy test for polar bears, but Elvis, a 3-year old beagle who lives at IronHeart High Performance Working Dogs, is being evaluated on his ability to diagnose pregnancy by smelling fecal samples (to read more about Elvis and his training, click here). Polar bears experience low reproductive rates world-wide but are exceptionally challenging to study because traditional methods of pregnancy detection, such as progesterone analysis, don’t distinguish pregnancy from pseudo-pregnancy this species. The 17 potential polar bear moms involved in this year’s Elvis study reside in zoos as close as Columbus and as far as Copenhagen. Last year, Elvis was 93% accurate in his pregnancy predictions. If his diagnostic accuracy is similar to last year, we’ll be lucky if just one or two bears have cubs.

Elvis (AP photo)

Elvis the beagle predicts polar bear pregnancy with 93% accuracy by sniffing fecal samples!

But while Elvis sniffs poop, scientists at the Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) are using cutting-edge research to figure out which components of a fecal sample Elvis might be recognizing in an effort to develop a laboratory-based pregnancy test. A pregnancy test would allow them to determine where the reproductive process is failing so that potential causes can be addressed. A polar bear pregnancy test wouldn’t just be useful for bears in zoos- it could also help their wild cousins. Since the test would rely on a fecal sample, it could be used to non-invasively monitor wild populations of polar bears, whose numbers are predicted to decline.

Berit

Berit is most likely not pregnant.

Unfortunately, the Elvis test showed that “Berit”, the Cincinnati Zoo’s female is not pregnant again this year and so far, there’s been no other word of cub arrivals. Polar bears can give birth anytime from October to January, so Elvis will need to wait a few more weeks to find out how he performed.

To make a donation to CREW’s polar bear research, please visit the Polar Bear Challenge webpage. Donations made by Dec 31st will be matched dollar for dollar by the Young Family Foundation.

December 10, 2014   2 Comments

Meet Some New Faces at CREW

Welcoming Two New Post-Doctoral Fellows

Two new post-doctoral fellows, Dr. Lindsey Vansandt and Dr. Anne-Catherine Vanhove, were welcomed to CREW in the fall of 2014.

With funding support from the Joanie Bernard Foundation, Dr. Vansandt will be working with Dr. Bill Swanson, CREW’s Director of Animal Research. Dr. Vansandt obtained her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Missouri and her Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of Maryland (in collaboration with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute). Her Ph.D. studies focused on characterization and propagation of spermatogonial stem cells in domestic cats as a model for conserving endangered cat species. Dr. Vansandt also has experience working in veterinary emergency services. At CREW, she will be conducting studies to improve the health and welfare of feral and shelter cats as well as helping to apply oviductal AI for propagation of endangered felids.

Lindsey Vansandt, DVM

Lindsey Vansandt, DVM

With funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), Dr. Vanhove will be evaluating survival of plant samples in CREW’s Frozen Garden under the supervision of Dr. Valerie Pence, Director of Plant Research. Dr. Vanhove will complete the second phase of the IMLS project, focusing primarily on the survival of shoot tips and gametophytes after long-term storage in liquid nitrogen. She recently received her Ph.D. from the Division of Crop Biotechnics, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, in Leuven, Belgium. Her thesis work with meristem culture, stress physiology, and cryopreservation makes her well suited for the IMLS project.

Anne-Catherine Vanhove

Anne-Catherine Vanhove

The University of Cincinnati/Cincinnati Zoo Connection

CREW has had a long-standing collaborative relationship with the University of Cincinnati’s (UC) Department of Biological Sciences, but today it is strengthened by two promising young scientists who split their time between CREW and UC. Corrina DeLorenzo and Megan Philpott are both enrolled in UC’s Ph.D. program under Drs. Ken Petren and Theresa Culley, respectively, but they are conducting much of their dissertation research at CREW.

Corrina earned her bachelor’s degree at Miami University, with a double major in Zoology and Environmental Science. As an undergraduate, she became involved in research evaluating the population genetics of the Italian wall lizard or “Lazarus lizard” in the Cincinnati area. After graduating, Corrina was accepted to CREW’s summer internship program, working with Dr. Erin Curry on the Polar Bear Signature Project. She was recruited into UC’s graduate program in January 2014. Since starting her Ph.D. research, Corrina has identified multiple antibodies that detect specific proteins in polar bear feces in an effort to develop a polar bear pregnancy test.

Corrina DeLorenzo

Corrina DeLorenzo

Megan received her bachelor’s degree from UC in Biology and was also an intern at the Cincinnati Museum Center, managing the Museum’s Philippine Bird Genetics project. Her Ph.D. research is part of the Plant Lab’s IMLS funded project to evaluate samples that have been stored for years in CREW’s CryoBioBank for genetic changes that might have occurred over time. In April, Megan was awarded the Botanical Society of America’s Public Policy award to attend Congressional Visits Day on Capitol Hill. There, she learned about communicating science to policy makers and met with the offices of Ohio Senators and Representatives to request their support for increased federal funding of scientific research, using CREW’s research as an example of the importance of federal funding and support. (Students supported by the UC Department of Biological Sciences, Institute of Museum and Library Services and CREW Eisenberg Fellowship.)

Megan Philpott

Megan Philpott

P&G Wildlife Conservation Scholars

In 2011, CREW established a partnership with the Ohio State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine to train veterinary students in conservation sciences with funding support from Procter & Gamble Pet Care. This past summer, two OSU veterinary students, Kelly Vollman and JaCi Johnson, were selected as P&G Wildlife Conservation Scholars.

Kelly worked with Dr. Monica Stoops analyzing urinary testosterone and glucocorticoid concentrations to determine if the pattern of excretion could be used to predict gender, parturition date and assess fetal viability during Indian rhino gestation. Kelly analyzed urine samples collected throughout seven Indian rhino pregnancies that resulted in three male and four female calves. Six of the pregnancies ended with the birth of live calves, whereas one pregnancy ended in a stillbirth, a relatively common occurrence in this rhino species. By learning more about the endocrinology of pregnancy, results from Kelly’s study will help establish physiological markers to improve pregnancy outcome in this species.

Kelly Vollman

Kelly Vollman

JaCi worked with Dr. Bill Swanson to investigate cat sperm vitrification as an alternative to standard slow freezing methods. Vitrification involves ultra-rapid cooling to avoid ice crystal formation and form a “glass” instead. For this study, JaCi collected semen from domestic cats (and one ocelot) and compared vitrification in a sucrose solution, with direct pelleting in liquid nitrogen, to slow freezing with glycerol in straws over liquid nitrogen vapor. Post-thaw sperm motility and acrosome status were similar between methods and 25% of domestic cat oocytes were fertilized following insemination with vitrified
sperm. This simplified approach to cat semen preservation may be particularly useful for field biologists working with felids in the wild.

JaCi Johnson

JaCi Johnson

November 21, 2014   No Comments

Supporting Black-footed Cat Research in South Africa

One of the world’s smallest cats, the black-footed cat is found only in the southern African countries of Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. It lives in dry, open habitats such as desert, savanna and scrubland. Due to its extremely shy and evasive nature, little is known regarding the black-footed cat’s status in the wild, though it is considered to be the rarest cat in Africa.

Black-footed cat (Photo: Alex Sliwa)

Black-footed cat (Photo: Alex Sliwa)

The black-footed cat is one of the five small cat species with which the Zoo’s Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) works on its Small Cat Signature Project. In addition to conducting zoo-based research on the reproductive biology of the black-footed cat, the Zoo also supports field research in South Africa.

A black-footed cat emerges from its den.

A black-footed cat emerges from its den.

Since 2004, a group of scientists and veterinarians working together as the Black-Footed Cat Working Group (BFCWG) (http://black-footed-cat.wild-cat.org/) have been studying black-footed cats in South Africa. The BFCWG aims to conserve this rare cat species by furthering awareness and conducting multidisciplinary research on the species’ biology, distribution, ecology, health, and reproduction over an extended period.

Scientists with the Black-footed Cat Working Group search for uncollared cats in South Africa.

Scientists with the Black-footed Cat Working Group search for cats in South Africa.

Once a cat is captured, researchers take a variety of measurements and samples are taken and fit a radio collar. Over time, this generates valuable data regarding the behavior, ecology, genetics, and health of the wild black-footed cat population.

A camera trap image of a collared black-footed cat.

A camera trap image of a collared black-footed cat.

Additionally, sperm collected from wild males can be imported into the United States (once frozen) and used to artificially inseminate captive females to infuse genetic diversity into the captive population.

Scientists with the Black-footed Cat Working Group collect samples from a cat.

Scientists with the Black-footed Cat Working Group collect samples from a cat.

This November, the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden helped to send Dr. Jason Herrick, a former post-doctoral fellow with the Zoo now working with the National Foundation for Fertility Research and as a Research Associate with the Denver Zoo, to South Africa to capture and replace radio collars on five male black-footed cats. At the same time, he is taking measurements and collecting samples.

Scientists with the Black-footed Cat Working Group (Dr. Herrick on the right) prepare to release a newly collared cat.

Scientists with the Black-footed Cat Working Group (Dr. Herrick on the right) prepare to release a newly collared cat.

 

November 17, 2014   No Comments