A lioness at the Ukutula Conservation Center and Biobank in South Africa’s North West province has given birth to two cubs conceived via non-surgical artificial insemination, using fresh semen from an adult male lion at the same facility, in a world first achievement, the University of Pretoria (UP) has said.
The UP said the birth resulted from a research study by a team of scientists from the university on the reproductive physiology of the female African lion and the development of artificial insemination (AI) protocols for this species, which could be used as a baseline for other endangered large wild felids.
Although African lions normally breed well in captivity, the wild population is highly fragmented and suffers progressively from isolation and inbreeding.
Indiscriminate killing, habitat loss and prey depletion, epidemic diseases, poaching and trophy hunting threaten the extinction of these existing wild populations.
The African lion population is estimated to have decreased from 1.2 million individuals to about 25 000 in 2016, and 18 000 in 2018, a reduction of more than 98% over 220 years and more than 60% in the last 25 years.
The African lion is listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list of threatened species, with the West African lion subpopulation considered critically endangered.
The research team now has novel data for the African lion’s reproduction physiology, said Dr Isabel Callealta, a qualified veterinarian from Spain and PhD candidate at UP.
“This, together with the success of the AI births of the lion cubs, not only celebrate a world first achievement, but has laid the foundation for effective non-surgical AI protocols for this species, using both fresh and frozen-thawed sperm,” she said.
The researchers said the application of these new techniques could provide a faster and broader diversification and distribution of the genetics, and a reduction of disease transmission, as well as independence from animal’s translocation for breeding purposes.