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Monday, August 17, 2015

From the News: Bison calf conceived at Toronto Zoo with frozen sperm from 1980

Both the first and third "From the News" features I posted on this blog detailed events from one of the newest fields of zoo biology - artificial reproduction (I guess "assisted" reproduction works better, seeing as there is nothing artificial about the end product).  The news from Toronto Zoo today marks another remarkable occurrence - the birth of a healthy bison calf using sperm from a bull bison collected 35 years ago.

Wood bison calves

Two wood bison calves are seen in this photo from the Toronto Zoo (CTV News)

Now, American bison are not an endangered species (not anymore, at least), so the birth of a single additional bison, one which would not have been too hard to produce the old-fashioned way, may not seem like that important of a contribution at first, more like an interesting science project.  The conservation potential of it, however, is remarkable.  The bison in this case are serving as surrogates for other, much more endangered ungulates, and techniques practiced and perfected on common species can be applied to much rarer species in the future.  Sperm from males that never bred, for one reason or another, can be saved and used in the future when their genes are needed the most.

Hopefully progress will continue to develop along this frontier.  It would always be best to have animals produced "naturally," I feel, but that might not always be an option.  Who knows what species this technique may be used to save in the future?

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