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.
Andre Ganswindt, the director of the University of Pretoria’s mammal research institute says his team’s breakthrough came after 18 months of intensive trials. “We collected sperm from a healthy lion,” Ganswindt told AFP. Then when the lioness’ hormone levels were found to be viable, she was inseminated artificially. “And luckily it was successful,” said Ganswindt, adding that “there were several attempts, but surprisingly it didn’t take too much effort“.
He said the breakthrough could be repeated, with scientists hoping the technique could be used to save other endangered big cats. Lions are extinct in 26 African countries and numbers in the wild have plummeted 43% over the last two decades, with roughly only 20,000 left, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which lists the African lion as vulnerable. “If we are not doing something about it, they will face extinction,” said Ganswindt.