Two cheetah cubs at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in the US were born through in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer into a surrogate mother.
This is a groundbreaking scientific first and is a result of a partnership between the Zoo, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) and Fossil Rim Wildlife Center.
History has been made! In a groundbreaking scientific breakthrough, two cheetah cubs have been born through in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer into a surrogate mother at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. 🐆🐆 Read more: https://t.co/KvRuAAIR4Q pic.twitter.com/2xtr4Fufm9
— Columbus Zoo (@ColumbusZoo) February 24, 2020
While the process of IVF is common in humans, it has been unsuccessful in big cats, including cheetahs.
Embryos were taken from two female cheetahs, Kibibi and Bella. These were then fertilized in a lab using thawed out semen from two male cheetahs. The embryos were then implanted into Izzy and Ophelia, with only those in Izzy taking hold. On 19 February, two cubs were born, a male and female.
In a statement, the Zoo explained that these efforts were part of a breeding recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Species Survival Plan® (SSP) and the Cheetah Sustainability Program (CSP).
‘These two cubs may be tiny but they represent a huge accomplishment, with expert biologists and zoologists working together to create this scientific marvel,’ said Dr. Randy Junge, the Columbus Zoo’s Vice President of Animal Health. ‘This achievement expands scientific knowledge of cheetah reproduction, and may become an important part of the species’ population management in the future.’
The cheetahs are being kept in a den in a behind-the-scenes part of the zoo to bond and be monitored.
‘I am very proud of the team for this accomplishment,” said Jason Ahistus, Fossil Rim Wildlife Center Carnivore Curator. “It gives the cheetah conservation community another tool to use in cheetah management, both in situ and ex situ. It really opens the door to many new opportunities that can help the global cheetah population. This is a big win for the cheetah.’
Image:Grahm S. Jones, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium