The first Cape buffalo calf to be conceived through in vitro fertilisation (IVF) is now a full three months old and in great health.
“This breakthrough is of great significance, as it is the first of its kind in the world and holds great promise for the continued survival of endangered species,” Dr Morné de la Rey, MD of Embryo Plus, said when he announced the Pumelelo’s birth.
Pumelelo was born on June 28 this year.
The assisted reproductive technology used in the production of this calf was developed by Embryo Plus from Brits in the North West Province, a world-leader in the embryo industry.
The Embryo Plus team, led by De la Rey, is still developing techniques that can be used to save critically endangered wildlife species.
“The use of Assisted Reproductive Techniques (ART’s) in wildlife management, although still in its infancy, is becoming more of a reality. This success is of major importance for the prospective breeding of endangered,” De la Rey said.
In a process similar to ovum recovery in women undergoing in vitro fertilisation (IVF), the oocytes of a buffalo cow were collected by a technique called ovum pickup (OPU), which took place with the cow under full anaesthesia. A needle was guided trans-vaginally and ova (eggs) were aspirated from the ovaries of the cow, using ultrasound to visualise the process.
De la Rey said the eggs were matured and fertilised in vitro with frozen-thawed Cape buffalo semen, then grown in a laboratory incubator in a process known as in vitro production (IVP). After 7 days of growth, the embryo was transferred into a surrogate buffalo cow, which carried the foetus to term for 11 months. DNA samples taken from the calf confirmed the parentage of the cow and bull used in the IVF/IVP process.
He added that extensive preliminary research was necessary to mature and fertilise the eggs and to incubate the embryos to an advanced stage of development, as all species have different requirements for growth and utilise different nutrients during the laboratory phase of the largely uncharted path of IVF/IVP in African game species.
The buffalo used for this procedure are part of a herd that has been maintained at the Stapelberg farm for more than 17 years.