A Surrogate Cheetah Gave Birth to Two Cubs at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
Wed, April 21, 2021

A Surrogate Cheetah Gave Birth to Two Cubs at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

 

As cheetahs have been declared endangered species, scientists are trying to figure out how they can increase the animal’s population, but this has been difficult for them because cheetahs have naturally low genetic diversity. In 2005, the biologists from The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) tried exploring embryo transfer in cheetahs. The good news was that the older female cheetahs can still produce viable eggs although they face difficulties reproducing. 

 

Credits: Smithsonian Mag

 

While the researchers were able to harvest and fertilize eggs to create embryos in 2011 through Vitro fertilization (IVF), a process where eggs are retrieved from ovaries and fertilized by sperm in a lab to obtain embryos, the team only performed the process in its entirety last 2019. Fortunately, experts at the Columbus Zoo detected the fetuses in an ultrasound a month after their third attempt at the procedure. 

“This is a really big breakthrough for us with cheetah reproductive physiology but also with cheetah management. It gives us a tool in our toolbox that we didn't have before, where we can reproduce these individuals that are unable or unwilling to breed naturally,” Adrienne Crosier, a cheetah biologist at the SCBI, said. 

 

Credits: Smithsonian Mag

 

According to Smithsonian Mag, the official journal published by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., two cubs were born to three-year-old surrogate mom Isabella about 90 days later. The scientists were still able to freeze the sperm although the male donor was far away from the female donor, showing one advantage to the embryo transfer process. “This benefits the overall population because all of those animals that wouldn't have otherwise contributed, now, we can get them to contribute genetically. You're capturing those genes from all those different animals,” he said. 

 

Credits: Smithsonian Mag

 

Pierre Comizzoli, a research biologist at SCBI, also explained that another advantage of this process is its flexibility compared to artificial insemination. “We have a very short window of opportunity to perform artificial inseminations. But with embryo transfers, it’s a little different; while the female has to be at the right stage of her natural cycle to receive an embryo, we think that it's much more flexible,” he said. 

 

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