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

US States Where Women Work for Free

Women earn less than men in all 50 states More

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

At a recent even in Seoul, border communities promoted benefits of increased cooperation and North Korean defectors shared stories of life since the war More

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: Iraq President Vows Fight to Death Against IS

In wide-ranging interview, Fuad Masum describes new type of fight that will take time to win More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs