Reproductive status of endemic felid species in Latin American zoos and implications for ex situ conservation



Reproductive evaluations were conducted on 185 male cats representing eight endemic Latin American species that were maintained in 44 zoos and private facilities in 12 Latin American countries. Reproductive assessments (testicular measures, ejaculate quality, and blood testosterone/cortisol concentration) were used to establish normative values for large- and small-sized cats in Latin American collections. Data also were analyzed using multiple regression to study the impact of proven breeder status, diet, and various animal housing combinations. Most felids (>95%) in the survey were of wild-born origin, and <20% had produced offspring in captivity. Larger felids had bigger testes and produced more semen, but tended to produce low-sperm-density ejaculates. The ejaculates of small felids were more sperm-concentrated, but contained fewer total spermatozoa. Sperm motility was unrelated to species size, and certain species (puma, margay, tigrina, and jaguarundi) consistently produced few (<40%) normal sperm forms. Across species, >50% of males had low sperm counts (<1 million total sperm per ejaculate). Among large cats (jaguars and pumas), proven breeders had larger (P<0.05) testes, greater semen volume, and more normal sperm than nonbreeders. Males on adequate diets had higher (P<0.05) circulating cortisol. Among small-sized felids, proven breeders had higher (P<0.05) testosterone, and males housed alone or paired with a conspecific female had more (P<0.05) total sperm per ejaculate and greater (P<0.05) seminal and testicular volumes. Fifty-nine ejaculates (potentially representing ∼100 artificial insemination (AI) or 26,000 in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures) were cryopreserved for a felid genome resource bank. In conclusion, breeding success and reproductive traits for many endemic felids in Latin American zoos appear to be suboptimal, and likely would benefit from improvements in diet and exhibitry. Technology transfer and continued training of zoo staff and scientists in Latin American countries are essential if these zoos are to achieve their tremendous conservation potential for felids and other threatened endemic species. Zoo Biol 22:421–441, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.