An overview of the assisted reproduction and genome banking activities of White Oak Conservation Center, Yulee, FL, in the service of species conservation



Assisted reproduction includes simple strategies, such as oral progestin to maintain pregnancy and hormone monitoring to predict oestrus for breeding introductions, as well as complex procedures, such as oestrous synchronization and artificial insemination (AI). The primary focus of research at White Oak Conservation Center, Yulee, FL, has been to work towards techniques allowing movement of frozen semen to manage metapopulations rather than translocate animals. Using the Gerenuk Litocranius walleri walleri as a model for threatened antelope, oestrous synchronization and AI were refined to produce four live offspring (from six attempts) using hand restraint rather than anaesthesia for inseminations. Conversely, similar progress with Okapi Okapia johnstoni has been slower. Okapi sperm are highly susceptible to osmotic changes and the physical pressures of the freezing process, which has limited the ability to develop suitable cryopreservation protocols. Storage of frozen semen from highly threatened animals provides insurance against loss of the individual's genes to the population and, if used for future insemination, can potentially provide new ‘founders’. Biomaterials from both species, including blood and blood products, are preserved in genome resource banks together with samples from other threatened species, including the Florida panther Felis concolor coryi. It is important to note that assisted reproduction in novel species requires significant commitment and continuity from zoological institutions for optimal results.