Artificial insemination offers hope for bolstering Africa's lion species which is extinct in 26 African countries.
A pair of lion cubs are making science history as the world’s first artificially-conceived lions, researchers from a South African conservation center announced Sunday.
“These are the first ever lion cubs to be born by means of artificial insemination – the first such pair anywhere in the world,” the University of Pretoria announced, after 18 months of intensive trials.
Born on Aug. 25, the healthy male and female lion represent a scientific breakthrough in animal conservation and artificial insemination, offering hope of bolstering the wildcat species which is extinct in 26 African countries.
The healthy sperm from a lion was used to inseminate a viable lioness and “luckily, it was successful,” said Professor Andre Ganswindt, director of the University's mammal research institute.
Statistics show that the species has fallen by 43 percent over the last twenty years, leaving only 20,000 in the wild, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said.
"If we are not doing something about it, they will face extinction," Ganswindt said, adding that the new technique could facilitate sperm transportation for breeders around the world.
Though many scientists are cheering the discovery as a historic milestone for South Africa, animal welfare organizations are wary, warning that the discovery may lead to illegal operations and exploitation of the animal species.
Born Free Foundation representative Mark Jones said, “(The captive lion breeding industry) generates its income through interaction activities (lion cub petting and lion walks), canned trophy hunting of lions, and the lion skeleton trade while contributing nothing to lion conservation.”
A letter, signed by 18 international and African conservation organizations, openly rejected the recent study, warning scientists to avoid “anything new which gives any validity to the captive lion industry.”
Activists allowed that the research could be used to support endangered species like the cheetah, however, there is little need to artificially inseminate lions as those in captivity “breed like flies — most cats do.”