Assisted reproduction for managing and conserving threatened felids



If used appropriately, assisted reproduction, including artificial insemination (AI), in vitro fertilization (IVF), embryo transfer and cryopreservation, has an application for the management and conservation of felids. It is possible that in the future assisted reproduction will enable the movement of genetic material, rather than living animals, between geographically disparate populations. These techniques can also be used to breed sexually incompatible individuals. The cryopreservation of gametes and embryos allows the long-term storage and protection of existing genetic diversity and provides ‘insurance’ against epidemics and natural disasters. Combined with AI or IVF, cryopreserved gametes and embryos could be used to infuse captive populations with new genetic material without having to take more felids from the wild to support captive-breeding programmes. Because cats are susceptible to certain infectious viruses, assisted reproduction may be one of the few means of breeding some genetically important individuals using washed and pathogen-free gametes. Although having many practical advantages, the greatest value of these techniques is for developing a database of the basic reproductive biology that is inherent to each species. Only after this information is known can assisted reproduction be used as a management and conservation tool. In the past 15 years immense progress has been made and there is much information now available on the reproductive physiology of many cat species. For some, such as the Cheetah Acinonyx jubatus, this database has allowed offspring to be produced repeatedly using AI. This article provides an overview of some of the species-specific breeding traits that have been discovered while developing assisted reproduction techniques for felids and how this new knowledge can be applied to improve breeding and management.