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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

Bom dia from Brasil!

Lindsey Vansandt, post-doctoral scientist at CREW, with tigrina kitten at AMC. (photo: Bill Swanson)

 For more than 20 years, Dr. Bill Swanson (CREW’s Director of Animal Research) has been working in Brazil to conserve Latin American felids (animals in the cat family). I was fortunate to get to travel with him to Associação Mata Ciliar (AMC), a non-profit organization that promotes the conservation of over 300 plant and animal species. AMC’s Centro Brasileiro para a Conservação Dos Felinos Neotropicalis (Brazilian Neo-Tropical Feline Conservation Center) is the largest feline conservation center in the country, which houses eight of the ten cats endemic to Latin America. Habitat loss and poaching have threatened most of these species with extinction in all or part of their natural ranges. Specifically, we’ve come to AMC to work with jaguars and tigrinas, but more on that later.

(photo: Lindsey Vansandt)

(photo: Lindsey Vansandt)

The Associação Mata Ciliar is a non-profit organization founded in 1987 dedicated to developing projects for conservation. CREW has been partnering with AMC for 16 years to conserve Latin American Felids.

The eight wild cat species of Brazil. (photos: Associação Mata Ciliar):

Jagur & Puma

Jagur & Puma

Jaguarundi & Geoffroy’s cat

Jaguarundi & Geoffroy’s cat

Ocelot & Margay

Ocelot & Margay

Tigrina  & Pampas cat

Tigrina & Pampas cat

Also under the AMC umbrella is the Centro de Reabilitação de Animais Silvestres (Wildlife Animals Rehabilitation Center), offering medical treatment and care to injured wildlife from all over the São Paulo region. Many of the injuries are the result of vehicle strikes, wildfires, or hunting. Other animals come to the center because they were confiscated from wildlife traffickers. AMC gives these animals a chance to return to their natural habitat and contribute to the survival of their species, a powerful tool for the imperiled wildlife of Brazil.

Stay tuned for more updates from Brazil!

AMC often cares for wild-born kittens that are confiscated from wildlife traffickers or displaced from their homes due to habitat loss.

Mila (ocelot)

Mila (ocelot) (Photo: Lindsey Vansandt)

Haika (jaguarundai)

Haika (jaguarundai) (Photo: Lindsey Vansandt)

Jade (tigrina)

Jade (tigrina) (Photo: Lindsey Vansandt)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

February 9, 2016   2 Comments

A RARE Endeavour: CREW Scientists Assist Rhino Reproduction

With a history of verified results from collaborative research, CREW scientists understand the importance of developing
scientific capacity within individuals and organizations throughout North America to overcome the serious loss of
genetic diversity facing captive African and Asian rhino populations.

Indian rhino (Photo: DJJAM)

Indian rhino (Photo: DJJAM)

In the first year of a three-year National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), CREW
has begun building a Rhino Assisted Reproduction Enterprise (RARE) in collaboration with SeaWorld Busch Gardens Reproductive Research Center and several other zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. These zoos contribute the veterinary and rhino keeper staff time needed to learn and implement rhino assisted reproductive techniques,
with the necessary training, tools and laboratory support provided by CREW.

One objective of the grant is to contribute to the genetic management and propagation of captive Indian rhinos through artificial insemination (AI). Although AI in Indian rhinos is still a work in progress, the achievements made during CREW’s initial 8-year effort are impressive with six conceptions and four term calves produced. Because there is a steep learning curve to these procedures, we are hopeful that success will become even more common over time. Participating zoos agree to collect and ship rhino urine samples on a frequent basis to CREW for hormone analysis needed to time AI. Rhino keeper staff at each facility condition females to enter a chute for the purpose of performing AI and the standing sedation protocol already established for successful intrauterine AI in this species is implemented prior to expected ovulation date. Each facility observes one AI before performing the next AI under CREW supervision.

Dr. Monica Stoops (CREW) and Dr. Anneke Moresco (Denver Zoo) discuss results of an ultrasound exam conducted on a sedated female Indian rhino.

Dr. Monica Stoops (CREW) and Dr. Anneke Moresco (Denver Zoo) discuss results of an ultrasound exam conducted on a sedated female Indian rhino.

We are happy to report that the Denver Zoo team is now fully trained in Indian rhino AI and is performing procedures in house using sperm from CREW’s CryoBioBank. Our long-term commitment to rhino conservation has positioned us to respond to the growing need of zoos to build their capacity for assisted reproductive technology for rhinos. We are gladly meeting this challenge and enjoying establishing a network of RARE researchers united for a common cause – to save rhinos. A RARE endeavor indeed.

February 8, 2016   2 Comments