A team from Western University of Health Sciences’ College of Veterinary Medicine recently received a grant of $100,000 to improve the breeding programs of captive endangered species. The grant was administered by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
Specifically, Margaret Barr, DVM, Ph.D., Kristopher Irizarry, Ph.D., and Janis Joslin, DVM, faculty members and co-principal investigators, will develop a strategy for using genetic analysis to maximize the breeding of snow leopards to enhance species diversity and robustness. Results from the research are expected to be applicable to other endangered species as well.
The researchers chose snow leopards because they are on the brink of extinction—about 550 are maintained in captivity worldwide—and they are susceptible to a number of infectious diseases.
Snow leopards have been managed by an international studbook since 1976. The studbook is used to maximize genetic diversity of the population, similar to dog breeders who look to pick the most unrelated pair of dogs to breed, according to Western University. The project aims to give zoos another tool to identify the best breeding pairs to sustain the captive breeding populations.
The research team will collect DNA samples of snow leopards and determine a draft of the snow leopard genome to identify specific genes associated with immune function.
Project partners include Todd Mockler, Ph.D. from Oregon State University and Jay Tetzloff from Great Plains Zoo & Delbridge Museum of Natural History.
Dr. Mockler will be responsible for sequencing the snow leopard genome. Tetzloff, who is also the propagation manager for the Snow Leopard Species Survival Plan, will assist with the studbook analysis and identifying individual snow leopards for genetic analysis.