In a First, Cheetah Cubs Born Through Surrogacy at the Columbus Zoo
by Nadine Daher/Smithsonianmag.com
A surrogate cheetah gave birth to two cubs at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Columbus, Ohio, on February 19, 2020. This birth marks a scientific breakthrough; it is the first successful embryo transfer to have ever been performed on a cheetah.
Cheetahs are an endangered species with naturally low genetic diversity. The biologists at The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) have been attempting artificial inseminations in cheetahs for decades, but they haven’t witnessed a successful birth since 2003. Switching their focus to in vitro fertilization (IVF)—a process where eggs are retrieved from ovaries and fertilized by sperm in a lab to obtain embryos—and the transfer of these embryos, this was their third attempt at the process.
“This is a really big breakthrough for us with cheetah reproductive physiology but also with cheetah management,” says Adrienne Crosier, a cheetah biologist at the SCBI. “It gives us a tool in our toolbox that we didn’t have before, where we can reproduce these individuals that are unable or unwilling to breed naturally.”
The SCBI team has been exploring embryo transfer in cheetahs since 2005, when they began studying egg physiology in the lab. Although older female cheetahs face difficulties reproducing, the team’s research…