On Monday, February 23, the Pueblo Zoo was honored to host a very special guest for a very special procedure. Dr. Bill Swanson, Director of Animal Research at the Cincinnati Zoo’s Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW), performed artificial insemination on the zoo’s female Pallas cat, Anya. Dr. Swanson’s team has worked with Pallas cats for nearly twenty years and developed the techniques that resulted in the world’s first successful Pallas cat pregnancy and birth from artificial insemination in 2011. (http://cincinnatizoo.org/blog/2011/06/23/pallas%E2%80%99-cats-born-from-artificial-insemination)
Over the past five weeks, Anya, was treated with a series of hormones to induce ovulation. All indicators were very positive as she had nine very healthy, viable follicles. Using laparoscopy (minimally invasive surgery) combined with an oviductal insemination technique developed at CREW, she was inseminated with two samples: one from a captive born male from Miller Park Zoo (Bloomington, IL) and the other from a wild caught male from Mongolia who is considered a “founder” of the Pallas cat captive population but who passed away before he was able to successfully breed with any female. His sperm has been frozen for twenty years and if the procedure at the Pueblo Zoo results in a pregnancy, it may be the first successful AI using frozen (vs. fresh) sperm.
Pallas cats are native to Central Asia and are considered near-threatened in the wild due to poaching, habitat loss and rodent control programs. In North American zoos, Pallas cats are managed by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) through the Species Survival Plan (SSP), a cooperative breeding program designed to maximize genetic diversity and ensure long-term survival. CREW’s work in AI is key in helping to introduce new bloodlines into zoos without requiring the removal of additional cats from the wild.
Anya is one of two Pallas cats that arrived at the Pueblo Zoo just over a year ago. As each breeding female is extremely valuable to the SSP’s efforts to maintain a diverse, healthy captive population, her sister, Belka, was recently sent to Mill Mountain Zoo in Roanoke, Virginia to be paired with a male cat. The Pueblo Zoo will monitor Anya for signs of pregnancy and should know if the procedure was successful within the next 50-55 days. In the meantime, Anya will remain on exhibit at the zoo at Asian Mountain.