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German Researchers Hope to Save an Almost Extinct Cat Species

Mar 25, 2013 12:45 PM EDT

Researchers from a zoo based in Berlin have found a way to stop a rare species of cat called Iberian lynx from going extinct.

According to WWF, the Iberian lynx is the world's most endangered species, with the number of individual cats falling between 84 to 143 adults. The cat has a prominent beard around its face and black ear tufts.

In February, researchers from Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research IZW, Berlin, Germany, castrated two Iberian lynx females and preserved their embryos and ovaries in hopes that the genetic material will help researchers breed a healthy Iberian lynx. The embryos were obtained from breeding centers in Spain and Portugal.

One of the female cats called Azahar from the breeding program in Silves, Portugal, had undergone complications while giving birth during two successive pregnancies. Experts at the conservation center then decided not to risk Azahar's life again and instead preserve her genetic material and let the embryo be carried by a related species of the cat, possibly a Eurasian lynx.

"Seven days after mating we expected to flush embryos from the uterus. In both cases, however, oocytes and embryos were still within the oviducts. Thus, the embryo development in lynxes is slower than in domestic cats", says prof. Katarina Jewgenow from the IZW specialist team.

"The next step we are discussing right now is to implant these embryos into a foster mother, which might be an Eurasian lynx female," added Jewgenow.

The other cat that was in the breeding program was "Saliega", located in the Centro de Cría de el Acebuche, in Doñana, Spain. Her advanced age and a diagnosis of mammary tumor made her an ideal candidate for the current breeding program, according to a press release from the Zoo.

"From her we only flushed unfertilised eggs, thus the male was not fertile. Her genetic material in terms of ovarian cortex oocytes was frozen as well," said Natalia Mikolaewska, a doctoral student from the IZW. 

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