When their uncommon Siberian tigers proved to be “simply mates,” the Nationwide Zoo turned to synthetic insemination in hopes of making a subsequent era.
JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:
Amur tigers, also referred to as Siberian tigers, are the most important cats on this planet. They’re additionally endangered. Fewer than 500 of them roam the mountains of jap Russia, however on the Smithsonian’s Nationwide Zoo in Washington, D.C., zookeepers are attempting to assist two Amur tigers reproduce utilizing synthetic insemination. From member station WAMU, Jacob Fenston has the story.
JAYNE HUTCHESON: All proper, final massive breath, after which I am going to take machine. Alissa, you will take her head and her tube, please.
JACOB FENSTON, BYLINE: Within the cavernous bunker-like concrete hallways beneath the lion and tiger habitats, a muscular 300-pound cat seems to be sleeping. She has thick orange and black fur, and her paws are as massive as salad plates. A pair dozen Nationwide Zoo staffers are gathered in shut.
HUTCHESON: I am Jayne Hutcheson. I am a licensed veterinary technician right here at Smithsonian’s Nationwide Zoo. And I’m respiration for our tiger proper now. She is below anesthesia, so we now have our moveable anesthesia machine right here.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Does somebody have the…
FENSTON: Nikita is 11 years outdated and massive cat curator Craig Saffoe says she’s by no means had cubs earlier than.
CRAIG SAFFOE: We have been making an attempt to breed Nikita with no success, so as soon as we do not have success with pure breeding, we glance to our scientists to assist us with synthetic insemination – all part of making an attempt to maintain this species going.
FENSTON: Getting massive cats to breed in captivity shouldn’t be straightforward. For one factor, the animals are naturally aggressive with one another. Mating could be violent.
SAFFOE: We frequently suppose that, effectively, you simply put two tigers collectively. Properly, attempt that with people. It would not all the time work out so effectively. This male – they get alongside, however it’s successfully a platonic relationship. They get collectively. They head rub, however they simply will not pull the set off. They simply will not breed.
FENSTON: Throughout North America, zoos attempt to assist endangered animals by selectively breeding them, maintaining genetically numerous populations. It is a kind of insurance coverage coverage in case catastrophe strikes the wild populations. Zoos even rank particular person animals based mostly on how genetically worthwhile they’re. Nikita is No. 5 amongst Amur tigers.
HUTCHESON: I’m prepared with the top. One, two, three.
FENSTON: It takes 10 individuals to raise the cat…
HUTCHESON: All proper, clear the way in which.
FENSTON: …And carry her onto a cart.
HUTCHESON: I will reconnect her and provides her a few breaths.
FENSTON: It is like in a hospital – that very same mixture of frenetic exercise and choreographed precision. Reproductive physiologist Pierre Comizzoli makes use of an endoscope – a tiny digicam – contained in the tiger.
PIERRE COMIZZOLI: Voila. So that you see I’m within the cervix now.
SAFFOE: So he is rigorously seeking to place the sperm at precisely the fitting spot. That is the thrilling half.
COMIZZOLI: So it went straight into the uterus or in all probability into the – one of many uterine horn as a result of the uterine physique could be very small in these cats.
SAFFOE: It appears good, so the precise insemination passed off.
FENSTON: Thus far, synthetic insemination has not often been profitable with these tigers.
COMIZZOLI: I’d say that the Siberian tiger is the most important of the wild cats, and it is all the time, you understand, very spectacular and really completely different from a cheetah or a leopard.
HUTCHESON: You continue to need her on one, Alissa?
ALISSA: Yeah, give her a pair massive breaths. It is tremendous.
SAFFOE: Now we have to return the animal as safely as doable again to her enclosure, after which we simply maintain our fingers crossed, and we hope for the very best.
FENSTON: Keepers on the Nationwide Zoo say they need to know by early Could if Nikita is anticipating tiger cubs. For NPR Information, I am Jacob Fenston.
(SOUNDBITE OF SURVIVOR SONG, “EYE OF THE TIGER”)
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