German zoo announces first-ever ‘test tube kittens’
Officials at the Allwetter Zoo in Münster, Germany announced Friday that they have successfully produced two endangered Asiatic golden cat kittens through the use of artificial insemination. According to the Scientific American blog, the success of the procedure could mean no hope for a species that has gone virtually extinct in the wild with only 51 animals remaining in captivity.
Asiatic golden cats, which are about two or three times the size of a normal house cat, pose special challenges to breeders. They are solitary animals that range over wide territories, meaning that they often live far apart, coming together only to mate. Mating, however, does not often go smoothly. In addition to sometimes attacking and killing each other, the cats have been known to turn cannibal toward their own young.
Allwetter Zoo’s two adult golden cats — Lao, a male, and Sua Fai, a female — had mated unsuccessfully in the past. No offspring were produced and Lao attacked Sua Fai after copulation, nearly killing her. Veterinarian Imke Lüders, a specialist in zoo animal breeding, tried a new technique for semen extraction and impregnated Sua Fai by taking advantage of her natural estrus cycle rather than resorting to surgery.
“I had just tested a new semen collection method in lions and cheetahs in South Africa,” Lüders told Scientific American. “I think this was one of the key factors for a successful artificial insemination. Lions and cheetahs are much bigger, [but] the principles are the same.”
When Sua Fai appeared to go into heat, zoo staff dosed her with hormones to induce ovulation. Semen extracted directly from Lao’s prostate gland was introduced into Sua Fai’s uterus and about 70 days later, she gave birth to two kittens.
Usually, Asiatic golden cats give birth to one cub, but we had twins!” Lüders told SA. “While Sua Fai is still a perfect mom to the male cub, the female was hand-raised. Both cubs are doing fine! We even place the little female back to socialise with her brother when their mum is outside. They play a lot together. I really hope they both make it, and will bring new hope for the breeding program.”
Watch the video, embedded below via Slate: