Test Tube Sand Cat Kittens Born at Park

AL AIN - The Al Ain Wildlife Park and Resort (AWPR) announced the first-ever birth of two Sand cat kittens following an In Vitro Fertilisation and embryo transfer procedure at its 
facilities in Al Ain.

By (Staff Reporter)

Published: Wed 27 Jan 2010, 10:25 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 2:37 PM

The success of the programme marks an important step forward in its efforts to conserve this threatened cat species and other arid land carnivores such as the Arabian leopard.

In October AWPR initiated Project Sand Cat in partnership with the US-based University of Illinois and the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden – both world leaders in endangered species research. Fresh sperm and eggs collected from male and female Sand cats were fertilised in an incubator to produce 50 embryos. Twenty-one of those embryos were transferred into 4 host cats, one of which recorded a successful pregnancy. The remaining 29 embryos were frozen and transported to the Cincinnati Zoo for similar trials.

“No Sand cat kitten has ever been born as a result of in vitro fertilisation and embryo transfer. Our Sand cat mother gave birth to two kittens. The kittens and mother are in a very good condition” said Farshid Merhdadfar, the Animal Collection Manager at AWPR.

According to AWPR’s Chief Programmes Officer, Dr Mike Maunder, the goal is to develop protocols for embryo transfer that can be used for the Sand cat and other more threatened species such as the Arabian leopard. “This technique will allow Sand cats, and other threatened species, held in the UAE to contribute to the breeding work of conservations institutions throughout the world,” said Dr Maunder.

AWPR is home to almost 20 per cent of the world’s captive Sand cats. The 34 Sand Cats at AWPR make up the largest and most genetically significant captive population of Sand cats at any single zoological institution in the world.

These in-vitro fertilization and embryo transfers would not be possible without AWPR’s large number of Sand cats. Eggs were harvested from five female donors, fertilised with the sperm from three male Sand cats, and the resulting embryos were implanted into a separate group of four female recipients.

Embryo transfer is an important technology for conservation efforts. Embryos fertilised at AWPR can be frozen and later implanted into recipient groups across the world.

“We can exchange genetic material without having to transport the animals themselves. This is a model in managing threatened wildlife species in the future,” explained Dr. Bill Swanson, Director of Research at the Cincinnati Zoo.

According to Dr Swanson, “The cats at AWPR are totally unrelated to other Sand cats held anywhere in captivity. To introduce their genetic material to other populations helps build a stronger and more viable captive population.”

If test-tube babies from AWPR’s Project Sand Cat are born to Sand cats at zoos in the United States, they will carry the genetic material from AWPR’s Sand cats. As AWPR’s foreign born Sand cats mature in collections in the United States, they will be bred with their US-based counterparts. This process diversifies the gene pool of captive Sand cat populations. One such trial of the embryos fertilised at AWPR is underway at the Living Desert Zoo in California.


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