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Saving the Cheetah

National Zoo scientist Adrienne Crosier discusses how scientists are using artificial insemination to rescue the species

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So this is not just about breeding cheetahs but increasing the diversity as well.
Yes, and maintaining the populations that exist in the wild.

How do you know if the insemination "took"?
Well, cheetahs actually undergo fetal pregnancy, similar to dogs, and so their progesterone levels—which is the hormone associated with pregnancy—will be increased until day 60 to 65, no matter what, whether they're pregnant or not. And the entire gestation is only about 93 days on average, so that doesn't leave us much window at the end. You know, the third trimester. So the last 30 days is really the only indication where you can look at progesterone levels and see if they're still elevated, which is certainly a good sign but also physically the girls will start looking pregnant. They'll start looking different. Usually around day 65 you'll start to see nipple development and you'll start to see a belly and from then on she should just continue to get bigger and put on weight and she'll start to look more and more pregnant.

So there's not a lot of time to prepare the baby room, so to speak.
No, there's really not, but I think we're going to set it up anyway so it will all be ready to go no matter what and we'll have our bases covered.

When do you hope to hear the pitter patter of little cheetah feet?
Um, their due dates will be right around May 18th.

Was there a rationale for choosing February 14th as the insemination date?
Um, well, uh—It was mostly due to travel schedules of the people doing the procedures. It just kind of happened to fall on that day, but we thought it was—it was kind of cute as well, but it was on Valentine's Day.

Yeah, thought that was romantic, in a way. Even though I'm not too sure how romantic that all really feels for the cheetahs. How often do you hope to do artificial inseminations at the facility?
That will depend on which females we have in our facility in the future—and not every female will be an ideal candidate for artificial insemination. The two girls we have now actually are perfect candidates because they're a bit older but they're still within the window of the most efficient breeding years. So, three to eight years of age for females are the most efficient breeding years just based on records from natural breeding success in the studbook. Also they had both had litters already before, which makes them better candidates for getting pregnant again.

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