Artificial Insemination Is Key to Ocelot Conservation
Photos| | By Lauren Boudreau
When you think of artificial insemination, you most likely think of a frustrated couple trying to conceive a kid. However, the technique is now being used to save endangered animal species, specifically the Brazilian ocelot. There are only about 30 Brazilian ocelots living in North American zoos today. The goal, according to Ocelot Species Survival Plan (SSP), is to get that number to 125 and artificial insemination is the way to do it, according to a statement from the Cincinnati Zoo.
Since 2010, three ocelot kittens, Milagre, Ayla, and Revy, have been born through artificial insemination (AI) techniques developed by the Cincinnati Zoo’s Center for Conservation & Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW). And all three of those kittens have gone on to have babies of their own through natural means. “Without the AI option, Milagre, Ayla and Revy – and all of their subsequent offspring – would have never existed and the long-term genetic viability of our Brazilian ocelot population would have been further diminished as a consequence,” said Dr. Bill Swanson, CREW’s Director of Animal Research. Swanson also goes on to say that about a quarter of the current ocelot population in North American zoos is a result of artificial insemination. Scientists carefully select breeding pairs in order to establish strong bloodlines and genetics, but if a pair cannot reproduce naturally, that’s when AI comes in. CREW has become the leading source of AI procedures for small cats in the United States. They primarily focus on ocelots, Pallas’ cats, black-footed cats, sand cats, and fishing cats. However, they are dipping into larger cat species such as tigers and lions. From the statement:
“In cats, AI has been used to produce offspring in 12 species (tiger, snow leopard, cheetah, clouded leopard, leopard cat, ocelot, tigrina, fishing cat, Pallas’ cat, golden cat, leopard, puma), but half of those AI births consist of only a single pregnancy. Historically, cheetahs have been most successful, with about 13 AI pregnancies produced since 1991 (but none since 2003) followed by the ocelot (with 5 pregnancies).”The Brazilian ocelots are currently listed as “vulnerable” by the Brazilian Government, but little is being done to protect these beautiful cats. The statement said genetic diversity will be severely reduced in zoos over the next 50 years. Let’s hope science can save them!
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