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Jogayle Howard, National Zoological Park,
Yan Huang, China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda,
Pengyan Wang, China Research and Conservation Center for the Giant Panda,
Desheng Li, China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda,
Guiquan Zhang, China Research and Conservation Center for the Giant Panda,
Rong Hou, Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding,
Zhihe Zhang, Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding,
Barbara S. Durrant, Conservation and Research for Endangered Species,
Rebecca Spindler, Toronto Zoo,
Hemin Zhang, China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda,
Anju Zhang, Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Research Foundation,
David E. Wildt, National Zoological Park
Historically, the breeding of giant pandas in ex situ programmes has been difficult due to behavioural incompatibility and interanimal aggression. Because some individuals fail to mate naturally, the potential loss of valuable genes is a major concern to effective genetic management (see Chapter 21). Consistently successful artificial insemination (AI) would allow incorporating genetically valuable males with behavioural or physical anomalies into the gene pool. This strategy becomes even more powerful when used in the context of a genome resource bank (GRB), an organised repository of cryopreserved biomaterials (tissue, blood, DNA and sperm) (see Chapter 7). The use of sperm cryopreservation and AI allows the movement of genes among zoos and breeding centres without needing to transfer animals, which is both stressful and costly.
‘Assisted breeding’ refers to the tools and techniques associated with helping a pair of animals propagate, from AI to embryo transfer to cloning, among others (Howard, 1999; Pukazhenthi & Wildt, 2004). With the exception of AI, there is not much need for most other assisted-breeding techniques for the giant panda. As will be demonstrated here, AI is quite adequate for dealing with most cases of infertility or with helping to maintain adequate gene diversity in the captive population. In fact, the major breeding facilities, especially the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda (hereafter referred to as the Wolong Breeding Centre) and the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, routinely use AI to increase pregnancy success.
The giant panda is seasonally monoestrus, experiencing a single oestrus with spontaneous ovulation in the spring (Schaller et al., 1985). Although natural breeding produces the majority of cubs in captivity (Xie & Gipps, 2001), the number of sexually competent breeding males is insufficient to create or maintain a genetically diverse population (Hu, 1990; Xie & Gipps, 2001). Inclusion of males that are behaviourally incapable of mating, but that are genetically valuable, is possible through artificial insemination (AI) (see Chapter 20). Accurate monitoring of the oestrous cycle to pinpoint the time of ovulation is critical for timed matings and, especially, AI success.
The vaginal epithelium of many mammalian species is responsive to changes in circulating oestrogen concentrations. The value of vaginal cytology in monitoring the oestrous cycle of rodents (Zylicz et al., 1967; Parakkal, 1974) and domestic carnivores (Shutte, 1967; Mills et al., 1979) is widely recognised. In routine practice, evaluating vaginal cytology in these taxa involves quantifying proportions of mature exfoliated epithelial cells, also known as superficial, cornified or keratinised cells. Increasing proportions of mature cells are correlated with the pre-oestrual rise in oestrogen as well as oestrous behaviours.
Despite the logistical difficulty of obtaining vaginal cells from most wildlife species, the oestrous cycles of several small carnivores (raccoon dog: Valtonen et al., 1977; river otter: Stenson, 1988; tayra: Poglayen-Neuwall et al., 1989; multiple ferret species: Mead et al., 1990; Williams et al., 1992; mink: Klotchkov et al., 1998; fox: Boue et al.
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