Conservation of endangered animals by using sperm and embryo freezing 
Maija Valtonen, University of Kuopio 

There is an urgent need to protect and conserve endangered wildlife in the world. The traditional means of doing this is to regulate human use of specific species or nature areas by legislation. However, the changes in environment and other circumstances have driven man into a situation where it is impossible to stop destruction of many species without special conservation programs. These programs have traditionally included breeding animals in captive surroundings, which again often is very difficult and limits the number of individuals thus restricting the genetic basis. A decrease in the genetic variation in a population results finally in failures in reproduction and total vitality. 

The modern techniques make it possible to preserve large gene materials by freezing sperm or gametes. Sperm freezing, artificial insemination and embryo transfer are routine methods in several domestic species and applications of these techniques may also be used in wild species. However, reproduction physiology is quite species-specific and before any technique can successfully be applied, the main reproduction features like seasonality, estrous cycling, timing of ovulation and fertilization, sperm production and quality etc. must be examined in target species or at least in a nearby relative species. Thus it gives remarkable benefit to research if a domestic and easily available species for experiments exists. By using this type of model species, progress in research is fast and effective and saves the rare endangered individuals from experimental work until the last steps. 

The project "Ex-situ conservation of endangered species by cryopreservation of gametes and embryos" will be concentrating in three endangered mammalian species which all have a close relative species available in farm conditions. The farmed blue fox will act as a model for the Arctic fox, the semidomesticated reindeer for the European forest reindeer as well as the polecat for the European mink. 

Project title: 
Ex-situ conservation of endangered species by cryopreservation of gametes and embryos 

Project leader: 
Professor Maija Valtonen 
Department of applied zoology and veterinary science, 
University of Kuopio 
P.O.Box 1627, 
FIN-70211 Kuopio, Finland 
tel: .+358-17-163370, fax.+358.17-163148 
e-mail.: maija.valtonen(at) uku.fi 


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