COLUMUBS, Ohio (WJW)– The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium welcomed two cheetah cubs thanks to in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer to make history.
Surrogate mother Izzy gave birth to the male and female cubs on Feb. 19. The birth is remarkable because previous attempts at IVF in large cats were unsuccessful.
“These two cubs may be tiny but they represent a huge accomplishment, with expert biologists and zoologists working together to create this scientific marvel,” said Dr. Randy Junge, the Columbus Zoo’s Vice President of Animal Health, in a news release. “This achievement expands scientific knowledge of cheetah reproduction, and may become an important part of the species’ population management in the future.”
The Columbus Zoo said it gave hormone injections to 6-year-old Kibibi, extracted the eggs and then fertilized them in a lab before implanting them into 3-year-old Izzy. Fertility declines in cheetah after the age of 8 and younger cats have a better chance to safely deliver healthy, full-term cubs.
The birth also helps maintain genetic diversity. Since Izzy’s bloodline is well represented in the genetic registry, she was selected as a surrogate.
The International union for Conservation of Nature said cheetah are classified as vulnerable and the population is decreasing in Africa.
“The first thing we had to do is show that this technique works,” said Dr. Junge. “Then we have to become proficient in it, so we can do it efficiently and reliably. With experience, we may be able to freeze embryos and transfer them to Africa.”