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Freez­ing break­through offers hope for African wild dogs

pub­lished 22 April 2018 | mod­i­fied 22 April 2018

Researchers have helped develop a new way to save endan­gered African wild dogs (Lycaon pic­tus). Dr Damien Paris and PhD stu­dent Dr Femke Van den Berghe from the Gamete and Embry­ol­ogy (GAME) Lab at James Cook Uni­ver­sity, have suc­cess­fully devel­oped a sperm freez­ing tech­nique for the species.

African wild dogsAfrican wild dogs.
Image copy­right James Cook University/​Damien Paris.

Con­ser­va­tion sta­tus
The highly effi­cient pack hunters have dis­ap­peared from most of their orig­i­nal range across sub-​Saharan Africa due to habi­tat destruc­tion, human per­se­cu­tion and canine dis­ease, leav­ing less than 6,600 ani­mals remain­ing in the wild. The African wild dog is clas­si­fied as Endan­gered by the IUCN Red List of Threat­ened Species.

Dr Paris said pop­u­la­tion man­age­ment and cap­tive breed­ing pro­grammes haven been set up, but there is a prob­lem. “One goal of the breed­ing pro­grammes is to ensure the exchange of genetic diver­sity between packs, which is tra­di­tion­ally achieved by ani­mal translo­ca­tions. But, due to their com­plex pack hier­ar­chy, new ani­mals intro­duced to an exist­ing pack are often attacked, some­times to the point of being killed,” he said.

Sperm freez­ing tech­nique
Dr Paris said the new sperm freez­ing tech­nique could now be com­bined with arti­fi­cial insem­i­na­tion to intro­duce genetic diver­sity into exist­ing packs of dogs, with­out dis­rupt­ing their social hierarchy.

Work­ing with inter­na­tional canine experts Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor Monique Paris (Insti­tute for Breed­ing Rare and Endan­gered African Mam­mals), Dr Michael Briggs (African Preda­tor Con­ser­va­tion Research Orga­ni­za­tion), and Pro­fes­sor Wenche Farstad (Nor­we­gian Uni­ver­sity of Life Sci­ences), Dr Paris and Dr Van den Berghe col­lected and froze semen from 24 males across 5 dif­fer­ent packs using the new for­mu­la­tion. After thaw­ing sperm to test their sur­vival, the team dis­cov­ered most sperm remained alive, appeared nor­mal and con­tin­ued to swim for up to 8 hours.

Sperm of this qual­ity could be suit­able for arti­fi­cial insem­i­na­tion of African wild dog females to assist out­breed­ing efforts for the first time,” said Dr Van den Berghe.

Dr Paris said he is deter­mined the find­ings will reach zoo and wildlife man­agers in order to max­imise the uptake of these tech­niques and develop a global sperm bank for the species. As part of these efforts, the team have also pre­sented these results at the Inter­na­tional Con­gress on Ani­mal Repro­duc­tion (France), African Painted Dog Con­fer­ence (USA), and the annual con­fer­ence of the Euro­pean Asso­ci­a­tion of Zoos and Aquaria (Nether­lands, 2017).

The work has been pub­lished online on Decem­ber 2017 as an open access paper in the sci­en­tific jour­nal Cry­obi­ol­ogy.

Sperm bank
The team hopes to expand their work to estab­lish a regional sperm bank for the species in South­ern Africa. They also plan to col­lect and freeze sperm from free-​ranging wild dogs in Botswana that could be used to insem­i­nate females in frag­mented cap­tive and wild pop­u­la­tions, thereby increas­ing genetic diver­sity and fit­ness in offspring.

To sup­port this ini­tia­tive or learn more about this work visit the IBREAM web­site here.

ABC radio inter­view with Damien Paris, Aussie researchers to the res­cue of the African wild dog:

(Source: James Cook Uni­ver­sity media release, 05.04.2018)

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