Zoo Site of Potential Scientific Breakthrough
Scientists from Omaha’s (Nebraska) Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium and the Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife at the Cincinnati (Ohio) Zoo & Botanical Garden will be visiting Miller Park Zoo on Tuesday, December 18th to collaborate on potential groundbreaking research.
The team will collect a semen sample from Rilu, the current male Snow Leopard at Miller Park Zoo. The team will then artificially inseminate Hima, the current Snow Leopard female at the Zoo with samples from Rilu and that was collected and frozen from a male at another zoo. The procedure will utilize two different samples from two different males in order to compare two different insemination procedures in the same female. Once offspring are produced a DNA sample from the cub can be compared to samples from the two sperm donors to determine which technique was successful.
The research groups in Cincinnati and Omaha have extensive experience working with endangered felids and their respective Species Survival Plans that coordinate the conservation breeding programs for many of the cat species maintained in U.S. zoos. The Miller Park Zoo coordinates the Snow Leopard SSP for all of North America. This research could change the theory in how animals are moved from zoo to zoo. Historically, breeding snow leopards, or any of the other cat species, required moving males and females between zoos. Even when the male and female are at the same zoo, they are not always compatible. Artificial insemination is one possible means of overcoming these challenges. Instead of moving animals between zoos, frozen sperm samples can be shipped to other zoos and animals that do not get along well with each other can produce offspring without ever meeting face-to-face. The problem is that artificial insemination still does not work very well in cats. Only 1 snow leopard has ever been produced by artificial insemination and no cubs have ever been produced from the two procedures that will be tested in Miller Park. Although the scientists work for other zoos, Miller Park is making a very significant contribution to these research efforts with their participation in this project.
In addition to the Snow Leopard work, the team will also hope to collect semen from the Sumatran Tiger at the Miller Park Zoo. Rojo is currently over-represented in the Sumatran Tiger SSP but his semen can be utilized for further research or possible inseminations in the future. A population changes over time and some bloodlines that are over represented can become underrepresented. Rojo’s genetics could even be passed along for generations.