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African Black-footed Cat
Some adorable newborn kittens at Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species have no idea just how special they are. Two African black-footed kittens, members of an endangered species rarely seen in captivity are the first of their kind to be born from a frozen embryo via in vitro fertilization. This ground-breaking birth is the latest advance in assisted reproduction for endangered species from Audubon Nature Institute.
The youngsters, both males, were born to surrogate mother Bijou on February 13, 2011, but their story begins in 2003 when sperm was collected from a 6 year old male named Ramses in Omaha, Nebraska. Experts at the Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo Center for Conservation and Research – Reproductive Sciences Department froze the sperm and sent it to the Research Center. It was combined with an egg from Zora, a black-footed cat living at the Research Center, creating embryos in March, 2005. Those embryos were frozen for almost six years before being thawed and transferred to Bijou on December 7, 2010. Sixty-nine days later, the two kittens became the first of their species to be born as a result of in-vitro fertilization utilizing frozen/thawed sperm and a frozen/thawed embryo.
“The science of assisted reproduction for endangered species has come a long way in the past fifteen years, but every time we can point to another ‘first’ in the field it gives us hope,” said Audubon Nature Institute President and CEO Ron Forman. “We are proving this science works and that we can provide hi-tech options for many different species as the situation grows more and more critical for wildlife across the globe.”
The very special black-footed cats might look similar to domestic kittens, but their numbers, according to the Feline Conservation Federation, are very low. There are only 19 such cats in zoo collections in the United States, and only 40 around the world. Native to South Africa, the black-footed cat is one of the smallest wild felines. While hunting them is prohibited, farmers in their range will sometimes poison or trap them.