Saving the Iberian lynx thanks to cryopreservation

IZW scientists developed a method for cryopreserving oocytes and embryos of wild cat species.
The Iberian lynx is the only wild cat species listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List as critically endangered. A decade ago, less than 200 individuals were left. The remaining population is located in southern Spain.

Recently, two Iberian lynx females who belong to the Iberian Lynx Conservation Breeding Program (ILCBPS) were castrated in order to guarantee a better quality of life and prevent possible health problems. Scientist from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, IZW, Berlin, Germany, went to the breeding centres in Spain and Portugal to obtain embryos by flushing the oviducts and freeze ovarian tissue immediately after surgery.
The embryos and ovarian components are stored in liquid nitrogen at the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales de Madrid (CSIC) for further usage in the breeding programme.

The IZW specialists performed a pioneering procedure to obtain and freeze embryos. Based on their experience in the domestic cat, they developed a method for cryopreserving oocytes and embryos of wild cat species. "Seven days after mating we expected to flush embryos from the uterus.

During two consecutive breeding seasons, Azahar, a female lynx from the Centro Nacional de Reprodução de Lince Ibérico in Silves, Portugal, experienced problems during parturition and an emergency caesarean operation was required in each case. The ILCBPS recommended not to breed Azahar again and it was decided to try to preserve her genetic material by collecting embryos and freezing the ovarian cortex after removing ovaries by castration.
The IZW team preserved three embryos and the ovarian cortex. The next step will be to implant these embryos into a foster mother, which might be an Eurasian lynx female.

Saliega, the other female, is located in the Centro de Cría de el Acebuche, in Doñana, Spain. She was the first Iberian lynx to be bred in captivity. In July 2012, she suffered from a mammary tumour after lactating her current litter.
The risk of recurrence, her advanced age (she is 12) and the fact that she already gave birth to 16 cubs over the past 8 years was the basis for the decision to castrate her. Her genetic material (ovarian cortex oocytes) was frozen.