Endangered Iberian Lynx Embryos Frozen

Elaine Radford

The embryos from two critically endangered Iberian lynx females were collected and frozen in February, scientists from Germany's Liebniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) announced on Friday.

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Wildlife red list, there are at most 143 adults of the species remaining in the wild. There may be as few as 84. And it gets worse, since the IUCN noted that there are probably only around 50 mature adults still capable of breeding.

The two females, located at breeding centers in Portugal and Spain, were experiencing severe health issues that required them to be neutered. However, with the lynx species on the brink of extinction, the German team wanted to use a new technique to preserve their genetic material by carefully removing the embryos and oviducts so that they can be stored in liquid nitrogen in a museum in Madrid, Spain.

The rare cat in Portugal had twice undergone emergency C-sections to deliver previous kittens. To protect her health, the center decided that she should not be allowed to get pregnant again.

The cat in Spain, the first Iberian lynx bred in captivity in 2005, is now 12 years old. She recently experienced a mammary gland tumor after feeding her current litter. Old for a wild cat and already the mother of 16 kittens in eight years, she too is now retired from breeding.

Wondering what the embryos are for? It may actually be possible to implant them into a mother of a non-endangered species so that the babies may be brought to term.

For example, the Audubon Zoo Nature Institute of New Orleans has been able to reproduce rare African wildcats by implanting the clones into a domestic housecat mother. The clones themselves were healthy and went on to mate and produce their own kittens the old-fashioned way.

A similar success would be great progress toward preserving the endangered Iberian lynx.

[photo Iberian lynx courtesy Joachim S. Muller and flickr]