To tackle fertility diseases and difficulties in captive and wild animals, fertilization non-profit
Months into the partnership, researchers continue to tackle reproductive problems plaguing animals at zoos and aquariums across the country.
The alliance set up a lab at the
The biggest barrier in fertility isn't a finicky female or a stubborn disease. It's money.
Fertility treatments at zoos and aquariums were once a staple at most organizations, but like many other long-term needs, some small- and medium-sized organizations reduced or eliminated their reproductive departments once the recession hit.
The money for reproductive services that remained often went toward big-name species such as pandas, cheetahs and other animals that draw public attention, said
"For some of the other species," he said, "it's a bit harder to get people excited about working on them and answering some of those questions, from a funding perspective."
The alliance has a cost-sharing business model, said
The fertility and conservation alliance, which partners with nine zoos, aquariums and conservation initiatives in the US, started in 2010 in the hopes of filling the emerging need for reproductive services at zoos.
A former employee at the
"There's an obvious niche for this, and we're filling it," Penfold said. A lack of fertility experts "makes the organization less efficient, and ultimately that translates into dollars."
Animals can have trouble reproducing for a number of reasons.
Sometimes handlers put two animals together at the wrong time in the female's cycle, the wrong time of year or even the wrong time of day. Sometimes there's a disease the zoo staff doesn't know about. Sometimes animals become overweight in captivity, which makes reproduction difficult.
Sometimes, an animal produces babies faster than a zoo can house them, and zookeepers need to figure out the right type of contraception to give it.
Researchers start by taking feces samples from captive and wild animals to measure hormone levels. These hormones tell researchers when an animal is sexually mature, the length of a female's menstruation cycle and whether animals are too stressed out to reproduce.
Penfold said her organization helped a mandrill at the
"We got asked about a naked mole rat contraception problem the other day," Penfold said. "So there's all sorts of thorny problems."
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