The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium announced on February 24 that the world’s first cheetahs bred through in vitro fertilization and surrogacy were born on February 19,media outlet The Verge reported. Test tube cubs in large cats are difficult to achieve. The last three successful examples were three tiger cubs born in 1990, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium said. The birth of the cheetah cubs is a hopeful sign that IVF cubs can help the species recover from reduced population and genetic diversity.
“These two cubs may be small, but they represent a tremendous achievement,” Randy Junge, vice president of animal health at the Columbus Zoo, said in a statement. Junge noted that in vitro fertilization may be an important part of managing the species’ population in the future.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature considers cheetah species to be “vulnerable” because they are at high risk of extinction in the wild. With only about 7,500 cheetahs remaining in the wild world, the sharp decline is partly due to the expansion of tourism, livestock and pastures in the region.
The Columbus Zoo says the loss of land has isolated hordes of cheetahs, creating genetic “bottlenecks.” That’s why the zoo decided to breed cheetahs through surrogacy. They extracted the eggs from the mother cheetah Kibibi and combined the sperm with the egg through in vitro fertilization to form a fertilized egg. And finally the fertilized egg was implanted into another female leopard, Izzy. The Columbus Zoo said Kibibi’s genes “are considered to be valuable in maintaining a strong cheetah lineage in human care.” Izzy, on the other hand, is an ideal surrogate because it is young and more likely to have healthy cubs without complications, and its pedigree is already well reflected in cheetahs.
New cubs have set a precedent, but environmentalists must be able to prove that they can do this again and again. Junge says that if they succeed, scientists may be able to freeze embryos and bring them to Africa.