Two African black-footed kittens were born at the Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species in New Orleans. They were born to a surrogate female cat from thawed frozen embryos that had been implanted recently. Scientists in Omaha, Neb., collected and froze the father’s sperm in 2003. It was combined in March 2005 with eggs from a black-footed cat and the embryos were kept frozen until December, when they were implanted in the female cat.
“The science of assisted reproduction for endangered species has come a long way in the past 15 years, but every time we can point to another ‘first’ in the field it gives us hope”, said Audubon Nature Institute President and CEO Ron Forman. (Source: WDSU.com)
Two similar news articles stated the cats are endangered with only about 40 left in the wild, but the IUCN says they are not, and could have a population in the wild of 1,000 to 10,000. Such a population level would indicate their conservation is vulnerable, but not yet endangered. In the wild, these tiny cats weighing just three to four pounds when fully mature, are found in the southernmost area of South Africa, and grasslands in Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Angola.
One threat is pesticide use by farmers, which sometimes kills them unintentionally. Additionally, their habitat is being lost to grazing lands for domestic animals. They eat mostly small mammals and birds and live about twelve to fourteen years. It has been difficult to study them because they are solitary, and nocturnal.
The research team at the Audubon Center specializes in cryopreservation, in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer for wildlife conservation. Dr. Betsy Dresser and Dr. Earle Pople are two of the main research scientists leading such efforts. With populations of wild animals dwindling worldwide, their service may soon be much more in demand. Some say they only long-term hope for the most endangered wild animals is for them to live in animal parks, so they aren’t extinguished by human activities.
Image Credit: Zbyszko