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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

Cinco de Gato: Eat, Drink and Help Save Ocelots in Texas!

More commonly found in Central and South America, a small endangered population of about 80 ocelots still roams the thorny brush habitats found on ranchlands and the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in South Texas. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its partners are working to protect the Texas ocelot, and the Greater Cincinnati Chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK) invites you to help support their efforts by joining us for our first annual Cinco de Gato fundraising event!

Cinco de Gato logo

This Friday on May 8 between 5:00pm and 11:00pm, join us at Barrio Tequileria in Northside (3937 Spring Grove Ave). Barrio Tequileria has generously offered to donate a portion of food and drink sales during the event to the cause. Cincinnati Magazine recently recognized Barrio Tequileria as having one of Cincinnati’s top outdoor dining patios. You can even bring your dogs!

Barrio Logo with phone

If you come early, you might get the chance to meet a special animal ambassador, and later in the evening there will be live music. We’ll be selling Cinco de Gato merchandise, including t-shirts, shot glasses and magnets painted by the Zoo’s ocelot ambassadors, Sihil and Santos. There will also be a piñata raffle and face painting. The event is sure to be fun for all ages!

Sihil, one of the Zoo's ocelot ambassadors, really puts her whole body into her art! You can purchase magnets painted by Sihil at Cinco de Gato.

Sihil, one of the Zoo’s ocelot ambassadors, really puts her whole body into her art! You can purchase magnets painted by Sihil at Cinco de Gato.

Cinco de Gato t-shirts and magnets painted by the Zoo's ocelots are among the merchandise that will be for sale at the event.

Cinco de Gato t-shirts and magnets painted by the Zoo’s ocelots are among the merchandise that will be for sale at the event.

Admission to the event is free! Funds raised will support Texas ocelot conservation through the Friends of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. So come on out for some great fun, food and drinks!

1_OCELOT_INFOGRAPHIC

May 6, 2015   No Comments

Celebrate National Arbor Day by Planting a Tree through Taking Root

Growing up, my favorite place to escape was among the weeping branches of a willow that stood in the far corner of our yard. I spent hours climbing that tree, watching the ants march up and down its wrinkled bark and making crowns of its leafy branches. Still now when I return to my childhood home for a visit, I always stop by to say hello to my old friend.

In our everyday lives, we generally pay little attention to the trees that grow beside us, providing the oxygen we breathe, cleaning the water we drink and shading the homes in which we live. And when we think about deforestation and the need to protect and plant trees, we usually picture far away tropical jungles. But right here in Cincinnati, we live in the middle of what used to be one of the world’s great forests, the Eastern woodlands.

Miami Whitewater Forest

Miami Whitewater Forest

When Ohio became a state in 1803, more than 95% of its land was covered with forest teeming with wildlife including black bears, wolves and bison. As settlers moved in, they cut down forests to farm. Less than 10% of Ohio remained forested by the early 1900s. Gradually, people became concerned about protecting the environment and forests began to reclaim some of the land. Today, more than 30% of Ohio is forested and wildlife populations are the healthiest they’ve been in the last century. Many species, such as the deer and turkey, have recovered fully, while others are well along the path to success, including the river otter and bald eagle.

With exotic insects like the emerald ash borer sweeping through the region killing trees, invasive plants like bush honeysuckle choking out native species and ongoing destruction and fragmentation of woodlands, there is still much recovery work to be done, and the Taking Root campaign is asking us all to get involved.

Taking Root logo

Chaired by our one of our own horticulturists, Scott Beuerlein, Taking Root is a collaboration between the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, the Ohio Kentucky Indiana Regional Council of Governments, the Green Partnership for a Greater Cincinnati and the Green Umbrella along with many other great organizations. Founded in 2013, the campaign’s goal is to plant 2 million trees by 2020 – that’s one tree for every person in the tri-state region.

Scott Beueurlein, Zoo Horticulturist and Chair of Taking Root

Scott Beueurlein, Zoo Horticulturist and Chair of Taking Root

 

More than 83,945 trees have been planted and registered with Taking Root so far.

Mt. Airy tree planting (Photo: Scott Beuerlein)

Mt. Airy tree planting (Photo: Scott Beuerlein)

Mt. Airy tree planting (Photo: Scott Beuerlein)

Mt. Airy tree planting (Photo: Scott Beuerlein)

You can help get the numbers up by planting trees in your yard or joining a tree planting event – check the website for a calendar of events.

Last year, my family and I helped plant trees at Mitchell Memorial Forest as part of the Taking Root campaign.

Last year, my family and I helped plant trees at Mitchell Memorial Forest as part of the Taking Root campaign.

Take the Tree Planting Challenge! It’s as easy as 1-2-3.

1) Plant and register a tree on the Taking Root website, or donate to the Taking Root Tree Fund.

2) Make a video of yourself challenging friends, family, or colleagues to do the same. Check out Zoo Director Thane Maynard’s video.

3) Post your video on Facebook or other social media and link it to the Taking Root Facebook page.

You can also nominate a special tree in the tri-state region to be listed on the Zoo’s website as a Tree of Merit. Here at the Zoo, we have a particularly special red oak, Quercus rubra, that was likely here before the Zoo was even established. At more than 130 years old, it is quite impressive. It grows in the central lawn area between Swan Lake and the Reptile House. Next time you’re at the Zoo, be sure to stop by and marvel at this beautiful elder. Imagine all that has changed around it during its lifetime!

This red oak is older than the Zoo itself! (Photo: Shasta Bray)

This red oak is older than the Zoo itself! (Photo: Shasta Bray)

April 24, 2015   No Comments