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Birmingham Zoo Artificially Inseminates Pallas’s Cat

Mischa, a young Pallas’s cat, recently joined the Birmingham Zoo family and can be seen in her new habitat in the Zoo’s Predator Building. The Birmingham Zoo is hopeful that through the process of artificially inseminating Mischa, a new Pallas’s cat could join the Zoo family in the future. Mischa was artificially inseminated last week in an attempt to grow the Pallas’s cat population. There are currently only 17 facilities in North America that house Pallas’s cats, with only 45 individual cats. The population of Pallas’s cats in the wild is estimated to be roughly 15,000 individuals, and those numbers are declining. The Birmingham Zoo is excited to participate in this conservation initiative in partnership with other Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) facilities.

Mischa is herself a product of artificial insemination (AI) and was the second successful offspring produced through artificial insemination in Pallas’s cats. That procedure was performed after natural breeding between her parents was unsuccessful. Dr. Bill Swanson with the Cincinnati Zoo’s Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) team performed both inseminations.

“These Pallas’s cat AI procedures are one component of our Collection Stewardship grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services to help improve the sustainability of our small felid populations,” said Dr. Swanson. “Over the past five years, we have produced three pregnancies with AI in Pallas’s cats, including one with frozen semen.”

Mischa was anesthetized by the Zoo’s veterinary team and was inseminated with a frozen sample by the CREW team, with the goal to produce additional offspring from new genetic sources. The frozen sample used for the procedure was obtained from a male Pallas’s cat housed at a zoo in the United Kingdom and imported into the US two years ago. Improving success with frozen samples also opens the door to using semen collected from wild males in their native habitat to help increase genetic diversity of the Species Survival Plan program population. These programs are a cooperative breeding and conservation program through the AZA.

Through the Birmingham Zoo’s Passion into Conservation Action (PiCA) grants, the Birmingham Zoo supports conservation of these endangered cats both in human care and in the wild. Through a PiCA grant trip, Birmingham Zoo Animal Care Professional Scott Kayser traveled to Mongolia to work with Pallas’s cat researchers for three weeks. For the project, Kayser worked with Dr. Bariushaa Munkhtsog, one of the leading Pallas’s cat researchers, assisting him and his team as they monitored the Pallas’s cat population and conducted a study on kitten mortality. “I am able to take the knowledge I gained working with this species in the wild and share my experiences here every day at the Birmingham Zoo with our visitors.” Kayser also serves as the Studbook Keeper for the Pallas’s cat Species Survival Plan, where he manages the Pallas’s cat population for all of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in North America, helping to make breeding and transfer recommendations so that a healthy, genetically viable population is maintained.

We are excited to monitor Mischa for pregnancy to see if this insemination was a success.