Monday, Jan. 22, 2001

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Speaker describes efforts in preserving species

Heather Grace
Kansas State Collegian

Preserving the genetics of animals in captivity to help the survival of different populations in the wild was the focus for Dr. Rebecca Spindler's presentation "Real World Science: The Application of Conservation."

As part of a new partnership between K-State's College of Veterinary Medicine and the Smithsonian Institution, Spindler spoke Friday about her reproductive work with exotic cats and pandas. She discussed several reproductive techniques for captive animals now being studied.

Gamete rescue, being researched in domestic cats, is being used to preserve the genetics of animals that might die unexpectedly or never have the chance to breed. When a genetically valuable endangered or threatened animal dies, the ovaries or testicles are harvested from that animal and sent to a gamete lab. In the lab, the eggs or sperm are removed. The sperm might be frozen or used and the eggs are matured or fertilized.

"If we can develop a method to transfer these genes out into the wild to females whose bodies are primed for conception and release them into the wild, pregnant, we eliminate a lot of different problems," Spindler said.

Artificial insemination is a technique used quite often in several different types of animals for different reasons. It is advantageous in animals that are especially aggressive to one another, such as the clouded leopard. Several female clouded leopards have been killed by males they have been housed with for mating purposes.

Stress hormone levels are being studied to improve the captive female cheetah pregnancy rate. The female cheetah typically is secluded in the wild, but in captivity unrelated females often are housed together. It is thought the stress of living with other unrelated cheetahs might be part of the difficulty trying to get captive cheetahs to reproduce.

Last year Spindler went to China for a month to help complete a three-year biomedical survey on the Giant Panda as part of the National Zoo. The survey looked at the health assessment, diet, genetics, reproduction and behavior of the animal.

Recently, the National Zoo received two new pandas to further study the reproduction of the Giant Panda. The hope is to increase the number in the wild and to improve the breeding of those pandas in captivity in China and the United States.

The Exotic Animal Medicine Club sponsored Spindlers' speech. Stasia Bembenek, president of the club and second year veterinary student, said the presentation was an opportunity for veterinary students to see how they can get involved in the efforts of conservation.

"It was a chance to see how applied science and veterinary medicine combine," Bembenek said. "We were able to see what is being done to help endangered species and the many opportunities available to veterinary medicine."

As part of this ongoing program between K-State and the Smithsonian Institution, K-State veterinary students have the opportunity to work on their master's degree research at the Smithsonian Institution Conservation and Research Center in Front Royal, Va.

Copper Aitken-Palmer, second year veterinary student, has been spending summers researching sperm metabolism in domesticated cats as a way to determine if the sperm samples would be good for artificial insemination.

"When you think of K-State, you don't usually think of international conservation," Aitken-Palmer said. "Hopefully, this partnership will get people thinking that way."

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