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

    Turkey, West in Standoff Over Syrian Refugees

    Turkish government refuses to admit refugees, the first in a wave of civilians fleeing offensive by Assad regime in northern Aleppo countryside

    Jailed American Testifies About Islamist Involvement in Mumbai Attacks

    David Headley testifies via video link that Pakistan-based Islamic terror group made two failed attempts to mount strikes in Mumbai in months prior to coordinated assault

    These Are the 10 Smartest US States

    A new report breaks down the nation's best and brightest

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.