Assisted Reproduction: A Wild Challenge to Beat Extinction

Advances in farm animal reproduction is now-a-days largely dependent on assisted reproductive techniques (ART).  However application of this technology is quite challenging in case of endangered wild animals.

Science-mediated sex is complicated. It works sometimes, but not always. Scientists all over the globe are working on this field to save the rare species, however with limited success, few evidences are:

  • A giant panda, Mei Xiang, at the National Zoo, gave birth to twin babies recently through artificial insemination.
  • A baby black-footed ferret is born recently, conceived with cryo-preserved sperm collected in 1980s.
  • Some success has also been achieved with white-naped crane, Magellanic penguin and elephants.

Using ART in wild is quite challenging.  Handling wild animals are difficult. Complete knowledge of an animal’s reproductive cycle and right combination of hormones in exact amount is essential prior to the application of these procedures.

Researchers at the Smithsonian’s Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) in Front Royal, Virginia, are trying to use artificial insemination on vulnerable cheetahs since 2003. 76% of wild cheetahs have disappeared over time and they suffer from shrinking gene pools. The team is not successful yet, but expect to have some milestones in next 10 years or so. However they found that the female cheetahs are inconsistent to the hormone therapies, with irregular estrous cycles, thus making things complicated. Moreover sperm samples produced are often abnormal in shape and low in cell count. As they are extremely picky about their mates and rarely breed in captivity, scientists think that artificial insemination would help them to breed some day.

Human- orchestrated success is achieved in case of giant pandas! Scientists think that this may be due to their cold resistant, non fragile, relatively easy to freeze and reanimate hardy sperm.

Researchers are successful in case of Magellanics penguin also. They chose Magellanics for the standardisation of ART because of their friendly nature. Afterwards they can apply this standardised procedure on more difficult penguin species, like Jackass and Galapagos.

Experts think that ART (artificial insemination) is great for genetic diversity in endangered species. This can be achieved by moving genes even among countries, without moving the animal. ART also allows banking and preserving samples for future. They are confident to use ART in other animals sooner or later.

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Arunima Maiti

Arunima Maiti

Biomedical scientist with special interest in reproductive biology.

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