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

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

Physically and culturally close to Western Europe, Lviv feels solidarity with compatriots in country’s east but says they need to decide own future More

West African Women Disproportionately Affected by Ebola

Women's roles in families and the community put them at greater risk for contracting the disease, officials say More

Video NASA's MAVEN Spacecraft Arrives at Mars

Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution craft will measure rates at which gases escape Martian atmosphere into space More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbiti
X
September 22, 2014 9:20 PM
NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbit

NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

The western Ukrainian city of Lviv prides itself on being both physically and culturally close to Western Europe. The Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country are 1,200 kilometers away, and seemingly even farther away in their world view. Still, as VOA’s Al Pessin reports, the war is having an impact in Lviv.
Video

Video Saving Global Fish Stocks Starts in the Kitchen

With an estimated 90 percent of the world’s larger fish populations having already vanished, a growing number of people in the seafood industry are embracing the concept of sustainable fishing and farming practices. One American marine biologist turned restaurateur in Thailand is spreading the word among fellow chefs and customers. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Chinese Admiral Key in China’s Promotion of Sea Links

China’s President last week wrapped up landmark visits to India, Sri Lanka and Maldives, part of a broader campaign to promote a new “Maritime Silk Road” in Asia. The Chinese government’s promotion efforts rely heavily on the country’s best-known sailor, a 15th century eunuch named Zheng He. VOA's Bill Ide reports from the sailor’s hometown in Yunnan on the effort to promote China’s future by recalling its past.
Video

Video Experts Fear Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid