x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Sand cat kitten at park will have visitors purring with delight

Despite the death of one of its two kittens, the Al Ain Wildlife Park and Resort is hailing its sand cat breeding project as a success.

AL AIN // Despite the death of one of its two kittens, the Al Ain Wildlife Park and Resort (AWPR) is hailing its sand cat breeding project as a success, with the surviving kitten and its mother now on show to the public. "Of the four sand cat mothers in Project Sand Cat, this mother successfully carried a litter to term," said Farshid Merhdadfar, the park's animal collection manager, yesterday. "We were saddened to see one kitten die, but this unique queen-kitten sand cat pair is a testament to AWPR's conservation research and we are proud to introduce it to the public."

The kittens were born through in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and embryo transfer. At California's Living Desert Zoo, sand cat embryos supplied by the park failed to result in a pregnancy, but animal researchers are not disheartened and are eager for a second attempt with the two remaining embryos. "We think the sand cats were a little too old and we were worried about their fertility," said Dr Bill Swanson, the director of animal research at Cincinnati Zoo. "We still have half of the frozen embryos and we hope to duplicate AWPR's recent successes."

The December births were brought about using a technique developed by American scientists that may eventually be employed to boost dwindling population of larger cats, and even those in the wild. The first phase took place last October at AWPR, which houses the world's largest collection of captive sand cats, an animal so reclusive that little is known about it. Dr Swanson and Dr Jason Herrick, an associate professor in veterinary biosciences at the University of Illinois, collected genetic material from some of Al Ain's 34 male and female sand cats and used it to produce 50 embryos.

Four surrogate mothers were implanted with embryos, and two kittens were carried to term, one of which died of natural causes. Dr Swanson and Dr Herrick will return to Al Ain next month, when they will try to produce embryos using frozen sperm obtained from male sand cats in America. The Al Ain park is open in summer from 4pm to midnight. Friday opening is 10am to midnight. @Email:ealghalib@thenational.ae