News / Science & Technology

French Vet Sets Sights on Wildlife Conservation

FILE - A Cheetah cub is examined by veterinary staff during a health check in its enclosure at Chester Zoo in northern England, July 31, 2013.
FILE - A Cheetah cub is examined by veterinary staff during a health check in its enclosure at Chester Zoo in northern England, July 31, 2013.
Lisa Bryant
Poaching, deforestation, human settlement and scarce prey are among the threats facing some of the planet's most iconic wild animals, from elephants and rhinos to lions and cheetahs. There are no easy solutions to save threatened species, but a group of veterinarians may be helping to boost their chances of survival.

The two-day-old kitten Dr. Jean-Yves Routier is examining has a big bandage wrapped around its middle. It was injured at birth, but it will survive.

The fate is less certain for some of the bigger cats the French veterinarian treats. When he is not at his clinic in the Paris suburb of Noisy le Grand, Routier is in Africa. He uses groundbreaking reproductive techniques to boost the numbers of cheetahs, lions and other game animals - and to diversify their gene pool.

The challenge, Routier said, is how to manage what he calls micro-populations - small populations of wild animals that are threatened, some to the verge of extinction. Zoos use artificial insemination and other techniques to induce pregnancy in captive animals. But that, he says, it does not save threatened species in the wild.

Veterinarian Dr. Jean-Yves Routier examines a dog at his clinic in Noisy le Grand outside Paris, Feb. 12, 2014. (Lisa Bryant/VOA)Veterinarian Dr. Jean-Yves Routier examines a dog at his clinic in Noisy le Grand outside Paris, Feb. 12, 2014. (Lisa Bryant/VOA)
x
Veterinarian Dr. Jean-Yves Routier examines a dog at his clinic in Noisy le Grand outside Paris, Feb. 12, 2014. (Lisa Bryant/VOA)
Veterinarian Dr. Jean-Yves Routier examines a dog at his clinic in Noisy le Grand outside Paris, Feb. 12, 2014. (Lisa Bryant/VOA)
In 2002, Routier founded a nongovernmental organization called CRESAM. That stands for Conservation and Reproduction of Endangered Wild Species. He and his international team of highly specialized vets work with about 20 different species of carnivores in France and overseas. Many are big cats like cheetahs, living in private game parks. CRESAM is one of the rare organizations using artificial reproduction techniques outside of zoos.

A video on CRESAM's website shows Routier shooting a cheetah with a tranquillizer gun. Once down, the vets take blood samples of the animal. They have to work quickly. Within a few minutes, it will be back on its feet.

Cheetahs once roamed large chunks of Africa and Asia. But their numbers have plummeted from about 100,000 a century ago, to only about 7,000 to 15,000 today. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists cheetahs in general as a vulnerable species. Some subspecies are considered critically endangered.  Luke Hunter, president of the global wildcat conservation organization Panthera, said big cats face a basic threat: competing with humans for space.

"The issue becomes the whole suite of threats that humans bring into landscapes in which large cats exist, which includes direct hunting of large cats for their furs or their bones or other things that are considered valuable for certain cultures. [Also] hunting and persecution of cats because they're considered dangerous, and just wiping out habitats and prey that big cats need," Hunter stated.

In the private reserves where Routier works, some cats face another problem.

Routier said the territory where these cats roam has shrunk and fragmented. So have the cheetah populations. This brings dangers of inbreeding, with diseases and bad genes spreading to the next generation. Routier is trying to create genetic maps. That allows his team to select sperm from males who are considered the best and healthiest reproducers to inject into females, who may live in a completely different place.  That helps diversify their gene pool.

But artificial insemination is only one method CRESAM uses.

Routier said that in some game reserves, the problem of reproduction can be solved by simply injecting hormones into females who are in heat, and the reproductive cycle starts again. He said the vets have also created a sperm bank for felines - with an eye toward preserving future populations - and fine-tuned an ultra-rapid method of artificial insemination.

Routier grew up in France, but his father used to hunt in Africa with business colleagues.

Routier said business deals took place during those hunts. But his father hated hunting. He tried to avoid killing animals.

Routier's own contact with big game came after his brother died 14 years ago.  

Routier said he began thinking what he wanted to do with his life besides being a vet. The answer: To help endangered species. But he did not just want to talk about it in scientific conferences. He wanted to be effective. A year later, he founded CRESAM.

Reproductive physiologist Pierre Comizzoli, who works at the Smithsonian's Center for Species Survival in Washington DC, is familiar with CRESAM and its assisted reproductive techniques.

"Using those kinds of techniques for wild populations may be helpful if you have fragmented, small populations of endangered species, and especially when individuals do not have the opportunities to mix and to reproduce with each other, because they are separated by geography and areas [space]," Comizzoli noted.

Panthera's Luke Hunter agreed CRESAM'S work can be useful in small conservation parks.  But, he said, threatened species need a much broader solution.

"As far as artificial insemination or assisted reproductive helping in the wild, I think we are a massively long way from any wildcat species needing that in the wild. The absolute urgent priority is making sure that populations are reasonably well protected over reasonably large areas, and that they have the prey they need to survive. And then they will do that [reproduce] by themselves," said Hunter.

The Chinese Tiger - also known as the South China Tiger -  is another story. China's iconic cat is CRESAM's next challenge. Scientists believe there are none left in the wild. The 28 or so that remain in China are all in captivity.

Routier said his team is in discussion with the Chinese government. They want to map the genes of the captive tigers to find those most capable of reproducing. The end goal: helping to reintroduce the tiger to the wild. Experts like Hunter say doing so would be enormously expensive. It demands a complex reintroduction plan, not to mention securing vast tracts of the tiger's natural habitat for conservation purposes.  He questions whether that can be done.

But Routier is no stranger to challenge. Even with limited means, he believes, his small team is making a difference. That, he said, is how he judges success.

You May Like

Obama: I Will Do 'Everything I Can' to Close Guantanamo

US president says prison continues 'to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world' More

Sierra Leone Educates on Safe Ebola Burials

Also, country is improving at rapid response to isolated outbreaks, but health workers need to be even faster, officials say More

Christmas Gains Popularity in Vietnam

Increasingly wealthy Vietnamese embrace holiday due to its non-religious glamor, commercial appeal More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid