Moos’ Blog

Bio­di­ver­sity Counts!
Obser­va­tions and opin­ions con­cern­ing zoos, evo­lu­tion, nature con­ser­va­tion and the way we treat/​support the ecosys­tems which are sup­posed to serve us.


Pal­las’ cat kit­tens born from arti­fi­cial insem­i­na­tion, what’s the benefit?

pub­lished 25 Decem­ber 2011 | mod­i­fied 18 Decem­ber 2016

In June this year Cincin­nati Zoo proudly announced it had pro­duced the world’s first Pal­las’ cat kit­tens with a new laparo­scopic oviduc­tal tech­nique. Sophia the female Pal­las’ cat of Cincin­nati Zoo wouldn’t accept her mate Buster ear­lier this year when the Zoo tried to breed with these spec­i­mens. Or as dr. Swan­son, direc­tor of the Zoo’s Ani­mal Research depart­ment, put it: “Sophia and Buster were paired up for nat­ural breed­ing ear­lier this year but they weren’t very com­pat­i­ble with each other ….…..” So what did they do at the Zoo? They decided that arti­fi­cial insem­i­na­tion (AI) was nec­es­sary. First Sophia was treated with hor­mones to stim­u­late ovu­la­tion. Then the sci­en­tists from the Cincin­nati Zoo’s Cen­ter for Con­ser­va­tion and Research of Endan­gered Wildlife (CREW) con­ducted a laparoscopy and used their new in-​house devel­oped oviduc­tal insem­i­na­tion tech­nique for cats to insem­i­nate Sophia with semen col­lected from Buster.

Sophia became preg­nant and three healthy kit­tens were born fol­low­ing a reg­u­lar ges­ta­tion period. A great suc­ces! But what must we think of dr. Swan­son say­ing: “We’re thrilled that Sophia became preg­nant and gave birth to these three healthy kit­tens that will con­tribute new genetic diver­sity to our zoo population.”

These three kit­tens may con­tribute new genetic diver­sity to the world zoo pop­u­la­tion, but will this be the genes we want to spread. Why didn’t Sophia and Buster want to breed by them­selves? Wasn’t there a phys­i­cal prob­lem or any other rea­son why a nat­ural con­cep­tion could not be achieved? And was this genet­i­cally based per­haps? The anounce­ment of Cincin­nati Zoo doesn’t say the Zoo per­formed any clin­i­cal tests to exclude such a dis­or­der. So, as long as this remain unknown these three cute kit­tens will just attract vis­i­tors, which is good for bud­getary rea­sons, but their con­tri­bu­tion to zoos’ genetic diver­sity could be doubtful.

ARKive photo - Pallas's cat climbing over rocks

Pal­las’ cats (Oto­colobus manul) are native to Cen­tral Asia and are con­sid­ered near-​threatened in the wild (IUCN red list sta­tus) due to poach­ing and over­ex­ploita­tion dri­ven by demand for exotic pets and ingre­di­ents for tra­di­tional med­i­cines, and habi­tat loss and rodent con­trol pro­grams. Fur­ther­more, some stud­ies have shown that Pal­las’ cats are often killed by domes­tic dogs and rap­tors, occupy a spe­cialised niche and have large spa­tial require­ments. In other words their future looks bleak.

There­fore, zoos can ben­e­fit from the out­come of the work of Cin­ci­natti Zoo’s CREW and the suc­cess­ful expe­ri­ence of the use of the oviduct AI tech­nique. This is not from the lit­ter born to Sophia and Buster, but from the tech­nique as such. It will enable the use of the frozen Pal­las’ cat semen that has been col­lected in the wild in Mon­go­lia from ten wild males. The oviduc­tal AI tech­nique may facil­i­tate the use of this frozen Mon­go­lian semen to intro­duce new blood­lines into zoos with­out requir­ing the removal of addi­tional cats from the wild. Though this is still step one in the con­ser­va­tion strat­egy. As gen­er­at­ing a genet­i­cally vital zoo pop­u­la­tion doesn’t serve the wild pop­u­la­tion unless you are able to suc­cess­fully re-​introduce cap­tive bred indi­vid­u­als into their native envi­ron­ment. And more impor­tantly this should be sup­ple­mented with pro­tec­tion mea­sures and habi­tat con­ser­va­tion in the native countries.

(Sources: web­site Cincin­nati Zoo, 23.06.2011; Cat news spe­cial issue no. 6, spring 2011)

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