Reproductive physiology program helps save endangered species, too

Linda Benedict  |  10/6/2009 6:56:03 PM

Survival for many endangered wildlife got a boost recently when representatives from the Louisiana State University system and the Audubon Institute in New Orleans signed an agreement to work more closely together on animal reproduction projects. One of their first projects will be trying to save endangered tigers by using lions as surrogate mothers.

“We are testing ways to use more common animals as surrogate mothers for animals that are more rare,” said Robert Godke, director of the reproductive physiology research program at the LSU Agricultural Center, one of the cooperating entities. His program has gained a worldwide reputation for pioneering work in the development of assisted reproductive techniques in farm animals.

He is working with Earle Pope, a scientist at the Audubon Center for Research on Endangered Species (ACRES). Since last May in more than a dozen attempts, they have taken eggs from female tigers at the Baton Rouge Zoo, combined them with sperm from male tigers at the Audubon Institute and transferred the embryos into female lions at the Audubon Institute. So far no pregnancy, though.

“These things take time,” said Richard Denniston, LSU Ag Center research associate. “This has never been done before. But we know there is the potential for inter-species transfer.”

Signing a formal agreement allows sharing of equipment and personnel. It also becomes easier to procure funding that can benefit both institutions.

Another project involves saving bongo antelopes in Africa from extinction by using the more plentiful eland antelopes as surrogate mothers. Scientists at LSU’s School of Veterinary Medicine have traveled to Kenya with bongo embryos which they then transferred to eland females. If any of the resulting pregnancies is successful, the world will see new bongo babies in early 1999.

Linda Foster Benedict

(This article was published in the winter 1999 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)

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