These two lion cubs playing around at a conservation center in South Africa just won everyone’s hearts, not because they’re so adorable, but because they are unique.
The University of Pretoria stated why their two cubs are so special:
“These are the first ever lion cubs to be born by means of artificial insemination — the first such pair anywhere in the world.”
The scientists are researching the African lions and the females’ reproductive system, and they have successfully accomplished an artificial insemination after 18 months of trials. These cubs were born on 25 August, and according to the director of the mammal research institute at the university – Andre Ganswindt, the baby lions are healthy and normal:
“We collected sperm from a healthy lion,” explained Ganswindt, adding that as soon as the hormone levels of the lioness were viable, the team inseminated the female, and after a few attempts, they succeeded.
The breakthrough can be repeated on any other endangered felines. In the last twenty years, the wild population of lions in Africa has plummeted 43%, and they are extinct in 26 African countries. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), there are only 20,000 lions left.
Ganswindt concluded that:
“If we are not doing something about it, they will face extinction.”
The technique of artificial insemination will only need to transport the sperm to females, just like they do with the captive elephant population from Northern America and Europe.
Spanish veterinarian Isabel Callealta, who is a Ph.D. student at the University of Pretoria, has been part of the research team, and the person who trained the lions to come next to a fence and wait to give blood samples. The samples were to determine the time for insemination.
Imke Lueders was also part of the study, stating that “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.”
Andre Mentz, a lion breeder in the Free State province, South Africa, said this technique is “very revolutionary.”
“Exploitative and Profit-Driven”
However, animal welfare organizations criticize this approach. For example, Mark Jones with the Born Free Foundation said:
“The captive lion breeding industry in South Africa is exploitative and profit-driven. It generates its income through interaction activities (lion cub petting and lion walks), canned trophy hunting of lions and the lion skeleton trade while contributing nothing to lion conservation.”
Eighteen international and African conservation organizations wrote a letter to the scientists, saying that they do not support this study, but agree that this approach can save other endangered cats like the cheetah.
Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.