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South Africa: Lion-size success

Conservationists have welcomed the world’s first lion cubs to be conceived and born by means of artificial insemination. They were born at the Ukutula Conservation Centre, 80 kilometers northwest of Pretoria in South Africa’s North West province, according to researchers.  

The two cubs, a male and female, conceived in their natural habitat and born on August 25, 2018, are healthy and normal, said Andre Ganswindt, the director of the University of Pretoria’s mammal research institute.

His team’s breakthrough came after 18 months of intensive trials. Researchers collected sperm from a healthy male lion, then monitored the hormone levels of a female lion until they were viable. She was then artificially inseminated using a nonsurgical technique.

He said the breakthrough could be repeated, with scientists hoping the technique can be used to save other endangered big cats.

Lions are extinct in 26 African countries, and numbers in the wild have plummeted 43 percent during the past two decades, with roughly only 20,000 left, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which lists the African lion as vulnerable.

“If we are not doing something about it, they will face extinction,” said Ganswindt.

He said that rather than move the lions for breeding, the new technique would let breeders simply transport the sperm to receptive females, as is done with the captive elephant population in North America and Europe.

Imke Lueders, a scientist involved in the study, said, “Having the first lion cubs ever born from artificial insemination in their natural range country, and not in a zoo overseas, is an important milestone for South Africa.

“Assisted reproduction techniques are another tool in our conservation box, of course not a sole solution, but another technology that we can use to protect endangered species,” she said.  Agence France-Presse

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