Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Clouded Leopard Species Survival Plan Meeting

The annual Felid TAG conference includes meetings of several Species Survival Plans(SSPs), the AZA programs responsible for managing the populations of rare animals in accredited North American zoos and aquariums. This year's conference included meetings of the Clouded Leopard, Lion, and Ocelot SSPs. The Clouded Leopard SSP meeting lasted about six hours and included a wide variety of presentations as well as a planning session to manage reproduction within the population in both North America and the Thailand breeding program (whose cats are included in the SSP.) I'll be updating the main website with some of the new zoo-based projects which primarily focus on continuing to enhance reproduction of these challenging cats.

In the meantime, here's a brief overview of what's new in zoo-based clouded leopard conservation:

Heather DeCaluwe, a student at the University of Maryland, is working with researchers at the National Zoo on determining ways to characterize and control male aggression in an effort to mitigate some of the issues that make it so difficult to form new pairs of clouded leopards.

Despite many years of research, ongoing successful artificial insemination in clouded leopards is still out of reach. (The only success was in 1992.) Therefore, scientists working on this topic are now branching out to pursue in vitro reproduction. This process will use eggs and sperm from donor cats to attempt to create embryos that would then be implanted into cats for gestation. Rebecca Hobbs will be undertaking the first steps of this research through the National Zoo. She will use donor clouded leopards from a number of zoos around the country for the first IVF study in an attempt to create embryos. (None will be implanted in the first stage of the study.) Using IVF will allow genetically valuable unpaired females and older females to have the potential of still contributing to the breeding population. This technique has ralready resulted in live offspring in tigers, servals, caracals, and other species so will hopefully be successful for clouded leopards as well!

In addition to the discussion of assisted reproduction, meeting participants also spent a great deal of time examining the status and genetic lineage of the individual animals in the population to determine the possibility of creating new pairs. We also worked on determining how to pair the numerous cubs born in Thailand, many of which share the same lineage - a situation that presents many challenges. After much work, a plan was created that will hopefully benefit the entire population in the future. I'll have an update on the final plan on the website once the meeting report is published.


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