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Successful Fixed Time Artificial Insemination in the Fishing Cat

CREW continues to make progress in improving the success of artificial insemination (AI) for propagating endangered
cats. In recent research, we incorporated treatment with oral progesterone (Regumate) into our AI protocol for domestic cats to down-regulate ovarian function prior to ovarian stimulation. This approach allows us to control ovarian activity more precisely and conduct AI procedures on a fixed time schedule.

Dr. William Swanson performs an AI procedure.

Dr. William Swanson performs an AI procedure.

Our first attempt using this method in exotic felids involved our fishing cat named Ratana,who was incapable of breeding naturally after losing a front leg due to injury. Ratana was fed a small amount of oral progesterone daily for one month to suppress her ovarian activity and then treated with gonadotropins to induce follicular growth and ovulation. Laparoscopic AI of both oviducts with freshly collected sperm from our resident male, named Gorton, resulted in conception and the birth of a male fishing cat kitten after a 69 day gestation.

Ratana and her kitten in her nest box

Ratana and her kitten in her nest box

This kitten was the first non-domestic cat born following the use of oral progesterone for fixed time AI, and represents the fifth cat species (fishing cat, ocelot, Pallas’ cat, tiger, domestic cat) that we have produced with oviductal AI. This new approach could greatly advance our capacity to use AI for the genetic management of endangered felid species.

Fishing cat (Photo: Connie Lemperle)

Fishing cat (Photo: Connie Lemperle)

April 11, 2014   1 Comment

Sihil the Ocelot Travels to Texas for Annual Ocelot Conservation Festival

Last week, Sihil, the Zoo’s 14-year-old ambassador ocelot, showed off her spots at an Ocelot Conservation Day Festival held in Brownsville, Texas. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the Friends of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge and the Gladys Porter Zoo hosted the event to highlight ocelots, which are native to South Texas.

Sihil the ocelot (Photo: Connie Lemperle)

Sihil the ocelot (Photo: Connie Lemperle)

In the United States, ocelots once roamed throughout Texas and into Arkansas and Louisiana. Today, fewer than 50 wild ocelots remain in the country, deep in South Texas. One of two known Texas populations survives on the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. Since 1997, the annual ocelot festival has helped educate thousands of people about the importance of conserving ocelots and what they can to do help. Nothing impacts the audience more than experiencing a real live ocelot, which is where Sihil comes in.

Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge

Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge

The Cincinnati Zoo’s Cat Ambassador Program is one of the few programs in the country that trains and works with ocelots to display natural behaviors for large audiences. Since 2007, Sihil and her trainers have traveled to Texas each year to appear at the festival. Having recently taken on a new role as the Education Advisor for the AZA’s Ocelot Species Survival Plan (SSP), I was fortunate to be able to tag along this year to learn more about Texas ocelot conservation and meet the people I’ll be working with on it in person.

After packing up the Cat Ambassador Program van with everything to meet Sihil’s needs for the week-long trip, which included a travel crate, her larger mobile “condo” crate, a cooler packed with raw meat and bones, plenty of kibble and enrichment items (aka toys) and more, we hit the road.

Sihil is a champion traveler. She slept a lot, which cats are known to do, so that I often forgot she was even there (despite the persistent ocelot scent that lingered in the van) until she let out a low, raspy meow to remind us when it was close to snack time. After two days of travel, we arrived at our cabin at Cactus Creek Ranch and prepared for the next two days’ events.

Sihil stretches her legs upon arrival at Cactus Creek Ranch.

Sihil stretches her legs upon arrival at Cactus Creek Ranch.

Wendy cleans the travel crate at the ranch.

Wendy cleans the travel crate at the ranch.

The first order of business was an appearance at the Cameron County Office in downtown Brownsville. FWS staff briefed the Cameron County employees on the issues facing ocelots in their area and talked about ways they could work together to solve them. For example, FWS and the Texas Department of Transportation are teaming up to install wildlife crossings on highways to prevent ocelot road mortality, one of the major problems they face. Next, it was Sihil’s turn to impress the audience, working with her trainer, Alicia Sampson, while Wendy Rice, the other trainer, shared information and answered questions.

Sihil at the Cameron County staff meeting

Sihil at the Cameron County staff meeting

Later that afternoon, the Friends of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge hosted an Ocelot Soiree at the Gladys Porter Zoo to raise funds for conservation. The food, drinks, auction, presentations and conversation were fantastic, but Sihil once again stole the spotlight.

Sihil shows off her expert climbing skills at the Ocelot Soiree.

Sihil shows off her expert climbing skills at the Ocelot Soiree.

The following day was the actual Festival held at the Gladys Porter Zoo. More than 1,300 people attended the event and took part in a variety of activities from face painting and crafts to talking to wildlife officials about protecting ocelots and planting native plants to restore the thorn scrub habitat on which they rely.

Keep the Ocelot in Texas display

Keep the Ocelot in Texas display

Ocelot Conservation Day Festival at Gladys Porter Zoo

Ocelot Conservation Day Festival at Gladys Porter Zoo

Coloring ocelot masks at the Festival

Coloring ocelot masks at the Festival

Coloring ocelot masks at the Festival

Coloring ocelot masks at the Festival

There was even a singing zoologist, Lucas Miller, on hand to entertain families with his conservation-minded songs. He wrote an ocelot song just for the occasion:

 

And, of course, Sihil and her trainers took their turn on stage throughout the day. For many of the local families in the audience, this was their first time seeing a real live ocelot, an ambassador for her wild counterparts that live right there in South Texas. She got some great local press.

Sihil at Ocelot Conservation Day

Sihil at Ocelot Conservation Day

Sihil did great. The trainers never force her to perform; it’s her choice whether she wants to come out on the table and display the behaviors Alicia asks her to do through visual and verbal cues. In return, she is rewarded with meaty treats. Sihil and Alicia have developed a special trust and bond over the past 10 years that they’ve worked together. Alicia can read Sihil’s body language and pick up on cues such as the “naughty tail” – when Sihil begins quickly flicking the tip of her tail back and forth – that let her know when it’s time to wrap it up.

Sihil at Ocelot Conservation Day

Sihil at Ocelot Conservation Day

And what did I do while they were working? Took lots of pictures, talked to lots of people and wrote down lots of notes. As the Ocelot SSP Education Advisor, I will play a role in helping to develop and implement an education and awareness campaign to accompany one of the next big goals – the translocation of ocelots into the area. Although there are still a lot of logistics to work out, the hope is that ocelots from a healthy population in Mexico will bring much needed new genetic material into the small population in South Texas in the near future. When a population starts to lose genetic diversity, it is less able to adapt to its environment and more likely to go extinct. The animals are more prone to diseases, low reproductive rates and genetic abnormalities.

Save the Ocelot!

In the meantime, Sihil will continue to educate Cincinnati Zoo visitors this summer during the Cat Ambassador Program’s Cheetah Encounter show. At 14 years old, Sihil is still in tip-top shape, but approaching the expected lifespan of about 20 years in captivity. So the Zoo has brought in a new young male named Santos as her protege. Maybe next year, Santos will carry on Sihil’s legacy at the Ocelot Conservation Festival.

Santos, ocelot ambassador-in-training (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

Santos, ocelot ambassador-in-training (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

 

 

March 19, 2014   2 Comments

My Life as a Zoo Academy Student

Guest blogger: Brianna Williams

Hey you guys! My name is Brianna Williams and I am currently a senior at the Cincinnati Zoo Academy and I am so excited to share my story with you all!

Well, for starters, I have always loved animals. Growing up I had 5 dogs, 2 turtles, and some fish. My mom grew up in a large family and she always brought home abandoned or hurt animals such as squirrels, rabbits, frogs and even birds. My mom always let me be my own person and adventure outside to be in nature and observe animals.

When I was in 8th grade my family and I began searching for a high school for me to attend and we came across Hughes Stem at a high school fair. I was intrigued by one of the programs they offered in the 10th grade called the Zoo Academy. I had never even heard of it, but I had a passion for animals and education, so I took the offer and began at Hughes as a freshman. Throughout my freshman and sophomore year at Hughes they prepared me for the Zoo Academy and I was so excited to start working with animals!

At the Zoo Academy, I have gotten to see and experience some REALLY cool things from feeding a manatee to touching a cougar!! Being at the Zoo Academy has been one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I have met so many great and amazing people here and made a lot of new friends. You feel as you’re a part of something bigger than yourself. I feel like I have another family and home here.

These are my two best friends in one of our classrooms.

These are my two best friends in one of our classrooms.

Since being here it has opened so many new doors and opportunities. I have been offered several job opportunities and have the chance to be a volunteer this summer. I have also grown fond of the people I have met so far such as the wonderful crew at the Education Department. I have worked with some cool animals here such as Bonnie the Screaming Hairy Armadillo and Crystal the Ball Python.

 

Having fun hanging out with Bonnie, the screaming hairy armadillo

Having fun hanging out with Bonnie, the screaming hairy armadillo

The Zoo Academy has given me a backstage view of how the animals are taken care of and handled. I have prepared food for the animals, helped clean their enclosures and even interacted with some of the animals we have here. Seeing animals such as cheetahs, cougars, elephants, and rhinos up close is something I will never forget.

The Zoo Academy teachers are also amazing and the class sizes are small so you really get to know your peers and your teachers, not just by name, but as a person. It’s not every day you get to experience the amazing things that happen at the Cincinnati Zoo. The Zoo Academy prepares its students for college, and so many careers! We also learn about conservation and what we can do as a person to help make the world a better place.

This is my environmental science teacher, Mr. Schulte.

This is my environmental science teacher, Mr. Schulte.

In the future, I plan to attend Wright State University and become an educator for preschoolers. I want to continue my story through my students and teach them about the Zoo Academy and maybe one day when they are older they will attend this amazing school that is like no other! I hope that after I graduate my adventure here continues whether as a volunteer or a paid employee. I have come to love and appreciate the Zoo, the people and the animals.

Hey! Did you know that the Cincinnati Zoo is the ONLY zoo in the country that allows high school to interact with animals and work with keepers on a daily basis? Well you do now, so if your children love animals and plants, I would HIGHLY recommend the Zoo Academy. It will be one of the best decisions you will ever make.

Best of Luck, Brianna

 

February 25, 2014   1 Comment