Chinese zoologists at the world's largest breeding base for Siberian tigers on Saturday artificially inseminated a four-year-old tigress, marking the country's start of the artificial insemination research on the rare species.
Experts of the China Henghedaozi Feline Breeding Center in northeastern Heilongjiang Province told Xinhua that artificial insemination, if proved successful by Saturday's test, will help avoid inbreeding and genetic degeneration among Siberian tigers.
The sperm were taken from a seven-year-old healthy male that has been trained to live in primitive forests.
The zoologists at the breeding center hope the tigress will become pregnant and have a healthy baby with the good gene from the father.
Wang Ligang, manager of the base, said artificial insemination and DNA tests can better help protect the rare species.
It will no longer be necessary to transport a tiger from far away just to mate another if the artificial insemination test is successful, said Wang.
Professor Liu Yutang with the Northeast Forestry University said that the preparations for the test began in last April.
Liu said artificial insemination will be used in the crossbreeding of tigers and lions in the future if the test is successful.
Siberian tigers, also known as Amur or Manchurian tigers, are among the world's 10 most endangered species and mostly live in northeast China and the Far East area of Russia. They are estimated to number approximately 400 in the wild, of which 20 or so live in northeast China.
Artificial insemination has been widely used as a means to protect endangered species. The State Forestry Administration said that 34 giant panda cubs were born by artificial insemination in 2006 and 30 of them have survived.
China succeeded in the artificial insemination of giant pandas in 1978.
The China Henghedaozi Feline Breeding Center was established in 1986 with just eight tigers, and now the population has exceeded 700.
Chinese scientists have adopted a series of measures to increase the survival rate of captive-bred Siberian tigers, such as DNA testing, regular health checks, and timely treatment and prevention of diseases.
The scientists also plan to establish a gene bank for the endangered Siberian tigers within three years to ensure heredity diversity for the large cats.
Wang Ligang said the center will have more than 1,000 tigers by 2010.
(Xinhua News Agency January 14, 2007)