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.
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.
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)