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WV Holt and AR Pickard

In combination with modem reproductive technologies, there is potential to use frozen and stored germplasm (genetic resource banks) to support conservation measures for the maintenance of genetic diversity in threatened species. However, turning this idea into reality is a complex process, requiring interdisciplinary collaboration and clearly defined goals. As the number of species deserving the attention of conservation scientists is overwhelmingly large, yet detailed knowledge of reproductive physiology is restricted to relatively few of them, choosing which species to conserve is one of the most difficult issues to be tackled. Besides the direct application of technologically advanced reproductive procedures, modern approaches to non-invasive endocrine monitoring play an important role in optimizing the success of natural breeding programmes. Through the analysis of urine and faecal samples, this type of technology provides invaluable management information about the reproductive status of diverse species. For example, it is possible to diagnose pregnancy and monitor oestrous cycles in elephants and rhinos without causing stress through restraint for sample collection. In this review, we identify the potential contribution of reproductive biology and genetic resource banks to animal conservation, but also highlight the complexity of issues determining the extent to which this potential can be achieved.

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AR Pickard, T Abaigar, DI Green, WV Holt and M Cano

The oestrous cycles of seven captive Mohor Gazelles (Gazella dama mhorr) were investigated. Hormone profiles obtained from faecal samples collected each day from cyclic females indicated that the mean duration of the oestrous cycle was 18.62 +/- 0.26 days (range 16-22 days; n = 37 oestrous cycles). No inter-individual differences in the concentration of faecal progestagen metabolites excreted were observed, but mean faecal oestrogen excretion during both the luteal and inter-luteal phases of the oestrous cycle varied among females (P < 0.001 and P = 0.070, respectively). Oestrous cycles were synchronized using controlled internal drug release (CIDR) devices, before natural mating with an intact male. Concentrations of faecal progestagen metabolites remained approximately constant for the first 10 weeks of gestation (mean +/- SEM = 4048 +/- 407 ng g(-1) faeces), before increasing to a mean of 23 556 +/- 1176 ng g(-1) faeces. Two of seven female gazelles conceived immediately after removal of the CIDR device, a similar proportion to that conceived at the postpartum oestrus under natural conditions. Life history data for these individuals indicated that the mean time to conception in female gazelles is positively correlated with peak values in the ratio of excreted oestrogen : progestagen during the inter-luteal period of their oestrous cycles (R(2) = 0.58; P < 0.05). This finding indicates that interactions between steroid production and metabolism may influence the likelihood of conception occurring in this species.

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T Abaigar, M Cano, AR Pickard and WV Holt

Subjective and objective semen assessments were performed on 18 male Mohor gazelles (Gazella dama mhorr). Sperm motility assessments combined with sperm plasma membrane and acrosomal integrity evaluations were undertaken as part of a captive breeding programme. The primary objective was to test methodology for short-term preservation of gazelle semen for artificial insemination (storage in N-[Tris(hydroxymethyl)methyl]-2-aminoethanesulphonic acid-Tris diluent (TEST) for up to 96 h at 17 degrees C). However, the secondary objective was to investigate phenotypic and genotypic influences on semen quality within this small population, which was established in 1971 with only 12 genetic founders. Sperm motility was measured by computer-assisted semen assessment and the data were analysed using a pattern analysis technique to detect and quantify naturally occurring sperm subpopulations within the semen samples. Four sperm subpopulations distinguishable by their motion characteristics were detected. The relative frequencies of two subpopulations (population 2: highly motile, non-linear; and population 4: poorly motile, non-linear) in fresh semen were correlated with the maximum voltage used during electroejaculation. The frequency of subpopulation 2 was negatively correlated with maximum voltage (r = -0.875, P < 0.0001) and the frequency of subpopulation 4 was positively correlated (r = 0.727, P < 0.005). The frequencies of all subpopulations varied significantly among the animals sampled (chi-squared = 2577.6, degrees of freedom = 54, P < 0.0001) and subpopulation 4 was also correlated with body weight (r = -0.59, P < 0.005). Semen stored at 17 degrees C retained motility, plasma membrane and acrosomal integrity for 48 h, but these measures decreased thereafter. The frequency of a sperm subpopulation showing uncoordinated but active motility increased significantly over the first 48 h and then decreased.