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First Pallas’ Cat Kittens Produced with New Laparoscopic Oviductal Technique

CINCINNATI (June 23, 2011) – Three healthy Pallas’ cat kittens were born on June 8, 2011 at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden following a laparoscopic oviductal artificial insemination (AI) procedure conducted by scientists from the Cincinnati Zoo’s Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW). This pregnancy and birth are the world’s first ever in Pallas’ cats from artificial insemination.  

Dr. Bill Swanson, CREW’s Director of Animal Research, performed the procedure using laparoscopy or minimally invasive surgery combined with a new oviductal insemination technique for cats that was developed at CREW. The Zoo’s female Pallas’ cat, “Sophia”, was treated with two hormones to stimulate ovarian follicle growth and ovulation, resulting in three fresh ovulation sites on her ovaries. She then was inseminated in both oviducts with a total of five million motile spermatozoa collected from the Zoo’s male Pallas’ cat, Buster.

“Sophia and Buster were paired up for natural breeding earlier this year but they weren’t very compatible with each other so we decided to attempt the oviductal AI procedure,” said Dr. Swanson. “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.”

Pregnancy was diagnosed 49 days after AI by detecting an increase in urinary hormone levels and three healthy kittens were born following a 69 day gestation. Although a first-time mother, Sophia is taking excellent care of the kittens in an off-exhibit housing area of the Zoo’s Veterinary Hospital. The mother and kittens will remain at the Veterinary Hospital for the next two to three months but the public may see the kittens on a video monitor in CREW’s Public Exhibit via a live camera feed from Sophia’s nest box.

Pallas’ cats (Otocolobus manul) are native to Central Asia and are considered near-threatened in the wild due to poaching, habitat loss and rodent control programs. In North American zoos, Pallas’ cats are managed by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) in a cooperative breeding program designed to maximize genetic diversity and ensure long-term survival. Currently, there are ~50 Pallas’ cats housed in 19 North American zoos.

CREW has worked with Pallas’ cats for the past 15 years, including collaborative research studies with wild Pallas’ cats in Mongolia that involved the collection, cryopreservation and importation of semen from ten wild males. The recent success of oviductal AI in Pallas’ cats 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.

The new oviductal AI method has been used by CREW scientists within the past year to produce multiple pregnancies and viable offspring in domestic cats as well as a healthy ocelot kitten at the Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport, CT and a confirmed pregnancy (but no live kittens) in sand cats at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, NY.

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The world famous Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden was rated the #1 attraction locally and one of the top zoos in the nation by Zagat Survey. It was recognized by Parents Magazine as #7 on the “Top 10 Best Zoos for Kids.” It has also been recognized by Child Magazine as one of “The 10 Best Zoos for Kids.” Over one million people visit the Zoo’s award-winning exhibits, and more than 500 animal and 3000 plant species annually. The Zoo is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) and the American Public Gardens Association (APGA), is internationally known for its success in the protection and propagation of endangered animals and plants, and engages in research and conservation projects worldwide. For more information, visit http://cincinnatizoo.org.

 

The Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is a global leader in wildlife conservation. Established in 1991 as the first institution of its kind focusing on both plant and animal conservation research, CREW is dedicated to “Saving Species with Science®”. World renowned for its accomplishments with its three Signature Projects – endangered rhinoceroses, imperiled small cats and North American plants – CREW also conducts substantial research with polar bears, amphibians and otters. These conservation efforts, involving a diversity of scientific disciplines and multi-institutional collaborations, are expanding our understanding of species biology, enhancing reproduction and genetic management, and ensuring a future for wildlife.