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Cincinnati Zoo could soon welcome groundbreaking litter of Texas ocelot kittens

The quick work of scientists helped preserve the genetic legacy of an endangered species.
The quick work of scientists around the country could result in a first-of-their-kind litter of...
The quick work of scientists around the country could result in a first-of-their-kind litter of Texas ocelot kittens at the Cincinnati Zoo.(Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens.)
Published: Jul. 20, 2021 at 6:22 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - A Texas ocelot whose life ended in tragedy could still father kittens thanks to a genetic preservation method that’s seemingly right out of Jurassic Park.

The 9-year-old wild ocelot, a member of a federally endangered subspecies, died recently after a vehicle strike in southern Texas, according to the Cincinnati Zoo.

Its death triggered an immediate, tag-team response from scientists around the country.

Officials with the US Fish and Wildlife Service located the deceased cat, quickly put him in an ice chest and transported him to a nearby Texas zoo.

The zoo veterinarian removed the cat’s testes and chilled them on ice for overnight shipping to Cincinnati.

Just 36 hours after the cat’s death, the testes arrived to the Cincinnati Zoo’s Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife, where Dr. Bill Swanson processed the tissues for sperm recovery.

“We knew that any chance of success depended on collecting the cat and getting the sample to the Cincinnati zoo as fast as possible,” said USFWS Wildlife Biologist Dr. Hilary Swarts.

Around 250 million preserved sperm were recovered for cryopreservation.

Swanson froze 20 semen straws, according to the zoo, each straw with enough sperm for one artificial insemination.

“It’s just incredible that we were able to obtain such a high-quality semen sample from a wild cat hit by a car in Texas 36 hours before,” Swanson said. “Only 60-80 individuals are estimated to remain in their native Texas habitat, so the importance of this sample, and the hope that it represents for the species, cannot be overstated.”

All that happened in late May 2021.

Scientists will use the semen for insemination on July 28 in Albuquerque.

If the insemination succeeds, the offspring could be born as early as October.

Nine ocelot pregnancies have been produced within zoos using artificial insemination, including three litters from frozen-thawed semen.

This will mark the first time kittens have been produced with frozen semen from a wild ocelot.

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