Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

South African lion cubs conceived artificially in world first

Watching the two little lion cubs boisterously play with each other at a conservation centre outside of South Africa’s capital Pretoria, it’s hard to see anything out of the ordinary.

But these cubs are unique.

“These are the first ever lion cubs to be born by means of artificial insemination — the first such pair anywhere in the world,” announced the University of Pretoria, whose scientists are researching the reproductive system of female African lions.

The two cubs, a male and female, born on August 25 are healthy and normal, said Andre Ganswindt, the director of the University of Pretoria’s mammal research institute.

His team’s breakthrough came after 18 months of intensive trials.

“We collected sperm from a healthy lion,” Ganswindt told AFP.

Then when the lioness’ hormone levels were found to be viable, she was inseminated artificially.

“And luckily it was successful,” said Ganswindt, adding that “there were several attempts, but surprisingly it didn’t take too much effort”.

He said the breakthrough could be repeated, with scientists hoping the technique can be used to save other endangered big cats.

Lions are extinct in 26 African countries and numbers in the wild have plummeted 43% over the last two decades, with roughly only 20 000 left, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which lists the African lion as vulnerable.

“If we are not doing something about it, they will face extinction,” said Ganswindt.

‘Another tool in conservation box’

He said that rather than move the lions for breeding, the new technique would let breeders to simply transport the sperm to receptive females, as is done with the captive elephant population in Northern America and Europe.

The findings are part of research being done by Isabel Callealta, a Spanish veterinarian and PhD student at the University of Pretoria.

Callealta personally trained the lions to lie next to a fence, where they would freely give blood samples to determine hormonal levels and assess the perfect time for insemination.

The research was carried out at the Ukutula Conservation Centre, 80 kilometres northwest of Pretoria in South Africa’s North West province.

Imke Lueders, a scientist involved in the study, said “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”.

“Assisted reproduction techniques are another tool in our conservation box, of course not a sole solution, but another technology that we can use to protect endangered species,” she said.

Andre Mentz, a prominent lion breeder in South Africa’s Free State province, described the birth of the cubs as “very revolutionary”.

But animal welfare organisations are less enthused.

“The captive lion breeding industry in South Africa is exploitative and profit-driven,” said Mark Jones of the Born Free Foundation.

“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,” he added.

A group of 18 international and African conservation organisations wrote a letter addressed to the scientists saying they do not support the study, but did acknowledge artificial insemination could help other imperilled wild cats like the cheetah.

However Paul Funston of wild cat conservation organisation Panthera raised fears about “anything new which gives any validity to the captive lion industry”.

After all, he said, “in captivity lions breed like flies — most cats do”.

© Agence France-Presse

Subscribe to the M&G

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them.

Susan Njanji
Guest Author

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

Life Esidimeni inquest postponed until August 30

The lawyer for the bereaved families argued that Dr Makgabo Manamela’s requests for postponements have a negative impact on the families of the deceased who seek closure

RECAP: Mbeki tells ANC that land without compensation goes against...

‘This would be a very serious disincentive to investment,’ says Thabo Mbeki in a document arguing that the ANC should not proceed with the Constitutional amendment of section 25

More top stories

South Africa’s audit independence tops World Bank rankings

Only two countries received a perfect score in ​​latest report on national audit institutions

In South Africa, only 5% of chief executives are women

Only 5% of chief executives are women and the gender pay gap is most pronounced in the top JSE-listed companies, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers...

How to apply for the Covid-19 R350 grant

Asylum seekers with valid permits and caregivers will now also be allowed to apply for the reinstituted social relief of distress grant

Long arm of the riots still affecting health sector

The tumult in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng has forced people to go without chronic medication and check-ups, caused shortages at the blood bank and disruptions in the vaccine roll out
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×