The Pallas’ cat of Central Asia could be the poster child among small cats for demonstrating the power of science for species conservation. Importation of wild Pallas’ cats from Russia in the mid-1990s as a founder population for North American zoos was followed by frustration in getting these cats to breed and their offspring to survive. Research at CREW and the National Zoological Park established that Pallas’ cats have a pronounced reproductive seasonality controlled by light exposure and that newborns are extremely susceptible to infection with a parasite called Toxoplasma. Improved reproductive and disease management based on these findings has enabled the zoo population to grow from 20 cats at seven institutions in 1996 to more than 50 cats in 15 zoos today. Another key to this success was comparative health studies with wild Pallas’ cats in Mongolia. Research conducted by CREW collaborator Dr. Meredith Brown determined that Pallas’ cats are rarely exposed to Toxoplasma in the wild and likely lack strong immunity to this parasite.

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As an extension of this earlier study, a radiotelemetry project was initiated by colleagues at the Mongolian Academy of Sciences and Bristol University to gather the first in-depth ecological data about this cat species. In conjunction with this field research, CREW scientists, in collaboration with a Mongolian PhD student at the National University of Mongolia, have been conducting reproductive evaluations of wild male Pallas’ cats to learn more about their natural reproductive biology and to freeze valuable semen for use with genetic management. In an ongoing study, CREW scientists are using this frozen semen for in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer procedures with Pallas’ cats in U.S. zoos to produce new founders for the zoo population (without removing additional cats from the wild).

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