After Black bucks, leopards to be bred in captivity

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Technical support: Female bucks with a fawn in this handout photo.
Technical support: Female bucks with a fawn in this handout photo.

M. Somasekhar

Hyderabad, Nov. 17 Leopards, tigers, lions could in the near future be the beneficiaries of novel assisted reproduction methods that would help them in multiplying their numbers and thriving in the wild.

The hope stems from the successful demonstration of an improved artificial insemination method to repeatedly produce Black buck (an endangered deer) in captivity by Indian researchers.

The technique used by scientists at the Laboratory for Conservation of Endangered Species (LaCONES), Hyderabad, has given confidence to try it on other endangered species, said Dr Lalji Singh, Director, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB).

The researchers have shown consistent production of live births of the Black buck, the State animal of Andhra Pradesh and a lively antelope on September 14 and October 5.

LaCONES, an annexe of the CCMB, is dedicated to research on wildlife conservation. The success rate of over 65 per cent gives us the confidence to transfer the method to other animals. “We have sought permission from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests to try it on lions, leopards and tigers,” Dr Lalji Singh told Business Line.

LaCONES has set up a cage at the Nehru Zoological Park for study on leopards. It would be shifted to the lab campus soon and once permission obtained for leopards first, as assured by the Ministry, research would be undertaken, he said.

In the case of the Black buck, the laboratory used the artificial insemination technique to demonstrate a live birth for the first time in August 2007. It had delivered successfully a spotted deer as a model for wild ungulates (deer family) also.

The Black buck (Antilope cervicapra), commonly called as Kala Hiran or Krishna Mrig in Hindi and Nalla Jhinka in Telugu, is a small gracious Indian antelope found all over the country.

However, because of serious threat to its survival due to hunting for meat and trade, destruction of habitats and tourism, it has become endangered. This necessitated developing assisted reproductive strategies as one of the conservation measures.

To improve upon this technology for better success rate and reproducibility, scientists at the LaCONES undertook ultrasonography to monitor ovarian follicular development and ovulation in the endangered black buck.

Two of the inseminated females gave birth to live fawns after 177 days of pregnancy with a success rate of 66 per cent, which is almost double as reported earlier. This study formed the basis of a standard protocol for estrus synchronisation in the black buck.

Dr Lalji Singh said research would be taken up on the reproductive cycles of different endangered animals and suitable techniques developed to increase the success rates. Research is also on for devising methods of treating diseases. A semen bank of animals has been planned at LaCONES.

The lab has also set its sight on cloning a Cheetah, saving the Asiatic Lion (whose numbers are down to 300-400 in the Gir forest of Gujarat) as well as the vulture, he said.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated November 18, 2008)
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