Reproductive procedures developed in South Africa are saving big cats

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Fourteen international veterinarians gathered at Ukutula Conservation Center near Brits for a feline medicine and reproductive course led by veterinarian, Dr Imke Lüders, during the first week of April.

The aim of the workshop was to train veterinarians in artificial reproductive techniques. The reproductive system of female and male lions, black footed cats and cheetah were all examined during the veterinary workshop.

Veterinarians from Poland, Australia, Germany, Austria, Spain, South Africa and Iran attended the workshop.

How procedures done on South African cheetahs can save the remaining Asiatic cheetah

One of the participants was Dr Mamarian, from Iran. Mamarian is the only conservationist currently working with the last 20 Asiatic cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus) in the world.

Along with Lüders, Mamarian will be employing the techniques from this workshop on three captive Asiatic cheetahs in an attempt to breed with them. Additional semen samples will be stored in a biobank.

Mamarian receives no government support for his work with the Asiatic cheetahs, it is completely self-funded.

International vets learning about cheetah reproduction

Photo: Ukutula Conservation Center

Artificial insemination and sperm banks of big cats

“The course included training in new semen collection methods, evaluating and preparing semen for cryo-preservation,” says Willi Jacobs, founder and director of Ukutula Conservation Center.  Artificial insemination training was done on the females.

“Equipping international researchers with artificial reproduction techniques skills is essential to maximize conservation efforts in critically endangered species,” says Jacobs. “Bio-banking of reproductive materials such as sperm, egg cells, and embryos is a vital conservation tool to fight the extinction of species.”

The Ukutula Conservation Center is home to the world’s first privately owned bio-banks for endangered African species.

Big cats in peril

black footed cat reproduction

Photo: Ukutula Conservation Center

“With the sharp decline in most big cat numbers, research in the field of reproductive health is becoming ever more important,” says Jacobs.

Cats are fast breeders with a relatively short gestation period of approximately three months. Big cats are threatened by anthropological pressures, disease and a lack of viable habitat.

However, once their numbers drop below a critical level the loss of genetic diversity further complicates conservation efforts. This is where artificial reproduction techniques come in.

Ukutula Conservation Center

The Ukutula Conservation Center is a first-class research facility, specialising in predator conservation.

The Ukutula Conservation Center is home to Isabel and Victor, the first lion cubs born via artificial insemination in August 2018. The hope is that this procedure might aid critically endangered big cats worldwide, like the Asiatic cheetah.

Some of the techniques taught in this workshop have been pioneered at the Ukutula Conservation Center by international researchers.  It has taken many years to master some of the reproductive procedures.

No animals are harmed during the procedures and all the felines are habituated to humans to minimize stress.

artificial insemination

Photo: Ukutula Conservation Center

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