African lion cubs conceived artificially in world first
BRITS, SOUTH AFRICA - AFP
Watching the two little lion cubs boisterously play with each other at a conservation center 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 Aug. 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 said. 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 percent 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.