Endangered Brazilian Ocelot Born through Novel Artificial Insemination Method at the Zoo

Mon, 03/07/2011

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. and CINCINNATI, Ohio - March 7, 2011 - The Connecticut's Beardsley Zoo and the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden's Center for Conservation & Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) are excited to announce the birth of the world's first endangered cat produced by Oviductal Artificial Insemination (AI)! Connecticut's Beardsley Zoo's veterinarian and a handful of other Zoo animal care specialists conducted their first physical examination of the Brazilian ocelot kitten today, six weeks after its January 22 birth, and determined it's a girl weighing in at three pounds.

This is the first time that the oviductal AI technique has been used to produce offspring in any exotic cat species. With traditional AI methods, the semen is deposited in the uterus, whereas in oviductal AI, the semen is injected directly into the oviducts. As a result, scientists are able to produce pregnancies using fewer spermatozoa or semen of poorer quality, which is always a potential concern in small wild cats.

This AI kitten is the second born to the mother, Kuma, who previously gave birth in 2008 to a healthy kitten conceived using the traditional AI method. Kuma is the first ocelot to have multiple pregnancies and kittens produced by AI.

"Because the technology was so new, we didn't know if using AI to produce Kuma's first kitten would impede her ability to conceive again and we've now shown that the science can be replicated," stated Gregg Dancho, director, Connecticut's Beardsley Zoo. "Given how rare these births are, it's incredible that two have occurred here at Connecticut's only zoo. Animal conservation is an important part of our mission and we are thrilled to have the opportunity to work with one of the world's leading experts on cat reproduction, Dr. Bill Swanson of the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden."

Kuma, age 6, and Ozzie, the father, age 11, underwent artificial reproductive procedures at Connecticut's Beardsley Zoo on November 2, 2010. Ozzie underwent electroejaculation for semen collection and Kuma underwent artificial insemination. Ozzie was transported from Salisbury Zoo in Maryland to Connecticut's Beardsley Zoo for the procedure and was returned shortly thereafter.

Both the kitten and Kuma have been in seclusion bonding for the last several weeks and are expected to remain in seclusion for another month. Mother and kitten are expected to be introduced to the public sometime in April.

Kuma's first kitten, Milagre, was born on Oct. 31, 2008. Because Kuma had been injured as a kitten and lost one of her rear legs as a consequence, she is incapable of natural breeding with a male and could only become pregnant by AI. Because of Ozzie's age, diminished sperm count presented a challenge to his ability to reproduce.

As one of only 30 Brazilian ocelots maintained in North American zoos, Kuma is very important genetically to the captive population. The Ocelot Species Survival Plan (SSP), which manages the ocelot population in North American zoos, requested that CREW scientists attempt the AI procedures with Kuma to allow her to pass her valuable genes onto the next generation. Her ability to become pregnant after AI on two separate occasions is a testament to the scientific knowledge gained from nearly 20 years of reproductive research with domestic cats and ocelots.

"This recent AI birth in Kuma is significant on several different levels. Obviously, Kuma having another kitten is enriching for her and this birth also contributes to the genetic diversity of the Brazilian ocelot population," said Bill Swanson, director of Animal Research at the Cincinnati Zoo's CREW. "But, one of the most exciting aspects of being able to produce a pregnancy using this new AI method is that it may be a game-changer in improving the success of AI in ocelots and other endangered cat species throughout the world." To view the full interview with Dr. Swanson, click here.

Brazilian ocelots have been on the endangered species list for more than 25 years. The American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) established its first Species Survival Plans (SSP) for small-field cats, including the ocelot, in 2001. Small sized cats, including the ocelot, have been severely 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 wild cat species, including the ocelot, will see their genetic diversity reduced to dangerously low levels in the next 50 years.

Reproductive sciences are playing a key role in helping to address the conservation and management challenges associated with maintaining these small cat SSP species. Reproductive sciences include multiple research disciplines including electroejaculation, artificial insemination (AI), in vitro fertilization (IVF), embryo transfer (ET), sperm and embryo cryopreservation, among others.

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About Connecticut's Beardsley Zoo

Connecticut's Beardsley Zoo is closer than you think and features 300 animals representing primarily North and South American species. Visitors won't want to miss our new Bald Eagle exhibit, Andean condors, Amur (Siberian) tigers, ocelots, red & maned wolves, Andean (spectacled) bear, llamas, vampire bats, and golden lion tamarins. Other highlights include our South American rainforest with free-flight aviary, the prairie dog exhibit with "pop-up" viewing areas, the New England Farmyard with goats, cows, pigs, sheep, and other barnyard critters, plus the hoofstock trail featuring bison, pronghorn, deer, and more. Visitors can grab a bite at the Peacock Café, eat in the Picnic Grove and enjoy a ride on our colorful carousel. For more information, visit http://www.beardsleyzoo.org

About the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

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 American Zoo & Aquarium Association (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.