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Category — Cat Canyon

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

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   3 Comments

Come Celebrate International Tiger Day on July 29!

This coming Wednesday, July 29, is International Tiger Day, and the Cat Canyon keepers and volunteers are gearing up for our 2nd annual celebration. We will also be celebrating the birthday of our Malayan tigers, Taj and Who-Dey. They will turn eight years old on July 30.

Tiger! (Photo: Mark Dumont)

Tiger! (Photo: Mark Dumont)

Like last year, keepers and volunteers will be on hand at the Malayan tiger exhibit to talk with guests about tigers and how we can help save this critically endangered species of which scientists estimate there are less than 350 individuals remaining in the wild. (The total estimate of all tiger subspecies combined is less than 3,200 remaining in the wild.)

Celebrating International Tiger Day in 2014 (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Celebrating International Tiger Day in 2014 (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Why are Malayan tigers in such big trouble? The most immediate threat today is from poaching and the illegal wildlife trade in tiger body parts used in traditional Asian medicine. The loss of forests on which tigers rely, which are rapidly being converted to palm oil plantations, is another major threat. Add to that the competition with hunters for sambar deer and other natural prey, which can lead tigers to attack livestock and increase conflict with people.

Tiger (Photo: Moni Sertel)

Tiger (Photo: Moni Sertel)

Since 2006, Panthera, a leading conservation organization focused on wild cats, has led the charge to stabilize and restore wild cat populations across the globe, including tigers. Panthera’s approach is to put as many boots on the ground as possible to protect tigers as well as promote co-existence between tigers and people.

The Zoo has pledged support to Panthera’s Tigers Forever program, which trains local rangers to patrol forests, gather intelligence and arrest poachers. In 2014, Tigers Forever added three new sites for a total of 15 sites under protection. This represents 36% of the world’s critical tiger sites. Panthera’s goal is to expand Tigers Forever to 50% of these sites by 2016.

New camera technology is also being deployed to prevent poaching. Panthera’s Technology team has developed the V5W PoacherCam, a hidden camera that uses an imaging algorithm to distinguish people from wildlife. When a person is detected, the PoacherCam instantly transmits the image to law enforcement who can immediately respond to the threat. PoacherCams will be distributed to Tigers Forever sites beginning in 2016.

Taj and Who-Dey relaxing in their pool (Photo: Kathy Newton)

Taj and Who-Dey relaxing in their pool (Photo: Kathy Newton)

Meanwhile, here at the Zoo, our Malayan tiger brothers, Taj and Who-Dey, continue to impress guests and help us spread awareness of the need for tiger conservation. We invite you to come celebrate International Tiger Day with us on July 29. In addition to talking with our keepers and volunteers and seeing Taj and Who-Dey, you can compare your hands to tiger paw prints, see example of tiger enrichment items (e.g. toys), and participate in the tigers’ birthday fun. Roar!

Roar! (Photo: Crissi Lanier)

Roar! (Photo: Crissi Lanier)

July 27, 2015   No Comments