by John Boyd
KWCH 12 Eyewitness News
10:11 AM CST, March 1, 2013
Months after being artificially inseminated, one of two Amur Tigers at the Sedgwick County Zoo gives birth. Unfortunately, the cub only lived a day and a half.
The cub was born on February 24th and marked the first-ever birth of an Amur Tiger at the Sedgwick County Zoo and the first cub for its mother, Talali. Talali was artificially inseminated back in November.
The zoo says the cub appeared vigorous at birth and was being cared for by its mother, but passed away just 36 hours after birth. Zoo experts say the death is likely due in part to its inexperienced mother. Records also show that single-cub litters have lower survival rates than average-sized tiger litters of two to four cubs.
“We are heartbroken by the loss of the cub,” said Dr. Colleen Lambo, who performed the procedure. “However, we are encouraged by the success of this new AI approach in tigers and will continue working to improve its application in support of tiger conservation.”
More on the Amur Tiger breeding program:
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP) ® for Amur tigers recommended breeding the tigers at the Sedgwick County Zoo. Along with the recommendation came the suggestion of trying laparoscopic artificial insemination with both female Amur tigers.
CREW scientist Dr. Colleen Lambo performed the minimally invasive laparoscopic oviductal insemination procedure on both of the Sedgwick County Zoo’s female Amur tigers, Talali and Zeya. The females were treated with hormones to stimulate ovarian follicle growth and multiple ovulations prior to AI. Talali was inseminated in both oviducts with spermatozoa collected from the Zoo’s resident male Ivan, but because of very low sperm numbers, the sample was combined with frozen semen from another male, Kavacha, at the Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines, IA. The second female, Zeya, was inseminated with frozen semen only. Pregnancy testing conducted 60 days after AI suggested that Talali was pregnant, and she subsequently gave birth to a single cub at 103 days after AI. Paternity testing of the cub by geneticists at the University of California will determine if the fresh or frozen semen was responsible for its conception. Pending the results of paternity testing, this cub may represent the first tiger ever produced using frozen semen.
Historically, AI success in tigers has been very low, with only three known pregnancies in the past 20 years (from more than 60 AI procedures) with the last reported AI birth occurring in 2003. The new oviductal AI method, developed by CREW scientists in domestic cats, has been used to produce multiple pregnancies in ocelots and Pallas’ cats, and now in tigers. By depositing the semen directly into the oviduct, this AI approach improves pregnancy success while allowing insemination using fewer sperm or sperm compromised by freezing. This AI technique, especially using frozen semen, holds tremendous promise for improving propagation of captive tigers and allowing genetic exchange between zoos or countries without requiring the transport of living tigers.
The majestic Amur tiger is endangered, with approximately 95% of the wild population now confined to the Russian Far East. Though habitat loss has restricted the Amur tiger’s range, the primary threat to Amur tigers currently is illegal hunting, or “poaching” (of both tigers and their prey species).Illegal trade in tiger parts that are used as traditional medicines is helping fuel the poaching of Amur tigers, as well as other tiger sub-species. There are likely fewer than 3,500 tigers of all sub-species, including fewer than 500 Amur tigers, remaining in the wild.
Living fairly secretive lives, the remaining tigers can be found across the continent of Asia in a variety of environments including forests, grasslands, and swamps. Tigers seem to thrive in areas of dense vegetation with numerous sources of water and large populations of ungulate prey.
There are 50 AZA accredited zoos, including Sedgwick County Zoo, that participate in the Amur Tiger SSP. These zoos are home to 146 Amur tigers.
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