New Approach Used by Cincinnati Zoo Reproductive Scientists Improves Pregnancy Odds

Posted March 9, 2017

Endangered Ocelot Born at the Texas Zoo from Novel Artificial Insemination Validates Method

Kitten born four weeks ago as a result of a fixed-time AI procedure. First-time mom is 12 years old!

An ocelot kitten born four weeks ago at the Texas Zoo in Victoria was produced using a new artificial insemination (AI) approach that improves the timing of AI relative to the female’s ovarian cycle. The birth of a healthy kitten helps to validate this “fixed-time” AI method for producing pregnancies in endangered cat species.

“By suppressing the activity of the female’s ovaries with oral progesterone prior to administering gonadotropin injections, the exact timing of follicle growth and ovulation can be controlled,” said Dr. Bill Swanson, Director of Animal Research at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW). “That permits us to schedule an AI procedure at another zoo months in advance and know that the female will be precisely synchronized to conceive when inseminated.”

With the previous method, the hormone injections were administered irrespective of the ocelot’s natural ovarian cycle. Five earlier ocelot pregnancies were produced in this way, but the randomness of the injections relative to the ovarian cycle reduces the chances for conception. Recent studies in domestic cats at the Smithsonian’s Conservation Biology Institute and CREW suggested that this newer method might be effective in wild cat species.

This ocelot kitten is the first to be produced following a fixed-time AI procedure

“This newer approach gives us the capacity to potentially improve pregnancy success with AI, and that has important implications for ocelot conservation management,” said Dr. Swanson, who also is Coordinator of the Ocelot Species Survival Plan (SSP), the group that oversees the ocelot population in North American zoos for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. “We’ve used this fixed-time AI approach before to successfully produce one fishing cat kitten and one Pallas’ cat kitten, but neither of those offspring survived. This is the first ocelot to be born as a result of fixed-time AI, and the kitten appears to be very healthy.”

It’s also remarkable that this is the first kitten born to the mother, 12-year-old Bonnie. There have only been two other ocelots listed in the North American studbook during the last century that gave birth for the first time at an older age. The sire, 17-year-old Obidaiah, is the oldest first-time father (by far) in the studbook. “They had been paired up for the past three years and breeding activity was observed previously but she never gave birth. It’s very similar to the situation in our society for many older human couples unable to have children on their own – getting an assist from reproductive technology. I’m just glad it worked out so well for Bonnie and Obidaiah,” said Swanson.

According the Mike Magaw, Animal Curator at the Texas Zoo, the mother and kitten are doing great together. “Bonnie’s maternal instincts kicked in and she has been nursing and cleaning the kitten since day one.”

Ocelots have been on the U.S. endangered species list for more than 40 years. Small sized cats, including the ocelot, have been relatively neglected in both scientific and conservation circles, with little information on their natural history or conservation status in the wild. Population projections indicate that several small cat species, including the ocelot, will see their genetic diversity reduced to dangerously low levels in zoos over the next 50 years.

Reproductive sciences, including techniques such as artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, embryo transfer, and sperm and embryo cryopreservation are playing a key role in helping to address the conservation and management challenges associated with maintaining these small cat species.

About the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is home to more than 500 animal and 3000 plant species and is internationally known for its success in the protection and propagation of endangered animals and plants. The Zoo’s research facility, CREW, is a global leader in wildlife conservation and is dedicated to “Saving Species with Science”. Zoo and CREW staff lead and support conservation projects all over the world. Learn more about ways you can support the Zoo’s mission.