Ocelot kitten born with help from Cincinnati Zoo scientists

Ocelot kitten (Source: Cincinnati Zoo)
Ocelot kitten (Source: Cincinnati Zoo)

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden's Lindner Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) and Connecticut's Beardsley Zoo have announced the birth of the world's first endangered cat produced by oviductal artificial insemination (AI).

Connecticut's Beardsley Zoo's veterinarian and a handful of other Zoo animal care specialists conducted their first physical examination of the Brazilian ocelot kitten on Monday, six weeks after its January 22 birth, and determined it's a girl, weighing in at three pounds.

This is the first time that the oviductal AI technique has been used to produce offspring in any exotic cat species. With traditional AI methods, the semen is deposited in the uterus, whereas in oviductal AI, the semen is injected directly into the oviducts.  As a result, scientists are able to produce pregnancies using fewer spermatozoa or semen of poorer quality, which is always a potential concern in small wild cats.

This AI kitten is the second born to the mother, Kuma, who previously gave birth in 2008 to a healthy kitten conceived using the traditional AI method.  Kuma is the first ocelot to have multiple pregnancies and kittens produced by AI.

"This recent AI birth in Kuma is significant on several different levels.  Obviously, Kuma having another kitten is enriching for her and this birth also contributes to the genetic diversity of the Brazilian ocelot population," said Bill Swanson, director of Animal Research at the Cincinnati Zoo's CREW. "But, one of the most exciting aspects of being able to produce a pregnancy using this new AI method is that it may be a game-changer in improving the success of AI in ocelots and other endangered cat species throughout the world."

Kuma, age 6, and Ozzie, the father, age 11, underwent artificial reproductive procedures at Connecticut's Beardsley Zoo on November 2, 2010.

Both the kitten and Kuma have been in seclusion bonding for the last several weeks and are expected to remain in seclusion for another month. Mother and kitten are expected to be introduced to the public sometime in April.

Kuma's first kitten, Milagre, was born on Oct. 31, 2008.  Because Kuma had been injured as a kitten and lost one of her rear legs as a consequence, she is incapable of natural breeding with a male and could only become pregnant by AI.

As one of only 30 Brazilian ocelots maintained in North American zoos, Kuma is very important genetically to the captive population.  The Ocelot Species Survival Plan (SSP), which manages the ocelot population in North American zoos, requested that CREW scientists attempt the AI procedures with Kuma to allow her to pass her valuable genes onto the next generation.  Her ability to become pregnant after AI on two separate occasions is a testament to the scientific knowledge gained from nearly 20 years of reproductive research with domestic cats and ocelots.

Brazilian ocelots have been on the endangered species list for more than 25 years.

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