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JK O'Brien and TL Roth

Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) sperm samples were collected from a post-copulatory female and characterized to determine their potential for sperm preservation and future use in artificial insemination. Five samples of acceptable quality from one male were used to compare the effect of two cryoprotectants (glycerol and dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO)) and two post-thaw protocols (untreated and glass wool column) on sperm quality. The percentage of motile spermatozoa, sperm motility index (0-100) and sperm morphology were evaluated subjectively, and viability and acrosomal status were assessed using fluorescent markers. Evaluations of frozen-thawed spermatozoa were performed over a 6 h incubation interval. Post-coital semen samples (n = 5; 104.0 +/- 9.1 ml; 2.5 +/- 0.8 x 10(9) total spermatozoa; mean +/- SEM) exhibited a sperm motility index of 56.7 +/- 3.3, and contained 40.2 +/- 6.3%, 72.0 +/- 3.2% and 79.8 +/- 6.5% normal, viable and acrosome-intact spermatozoa, respectively. Glycerol and DMSO were equally effective as cryoprotectants and, regardless of post-thaw protocol, samples retained greater than 80% of all pre-freeze characteristic values. Processing semen samples through glass wool yielded higher quality samples, but only half the total number of motile spermatozoa compared with untreated samples. High values for pre-freeze sperm characteristics were also maintained after cryopreservation of epididymal spermatozoa from one black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) using the same protocol. In summary, Sumatran rhinoceros spermatozoa of moderate quality can be collected from post-copulatory females. Rhinoceros sperm samples show only slight reductions in quality after cryopreservation and thawing and have potential for use in artificial insemination.

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TL Roth, JK O'Brien, MA McRae, AC Bellem, SJ Romo, JL Kroll, and JL Brown

Longitudinal ultrasound and endocrine evaluations were conducted in two adult female Sumatran rhinoceroses (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) over a period of 12-22 months to learn more about their reproductive physiology. Rectal ultrasonography was conducted to monitor ovarian activity. Blood samples were collected and analysed for progesterone and LH, and faecal samples were analysed for progestin metabolites. One female showed cyclic ovarian activity during the study period, whereas the other female showed no evidence of ovarian activity. The cyclic Sumatran rhinoceros appeared to be an induced ovulator, the first of its kind reported within the Perrisodactyla. Ultrasound examinations of the ovaries revealed the formation of anovulatory haemorrhagic follicles when the animal was not mated. These follicles appeared to undergo varied degrees of luteinization that resulted in irregular faecal progestin profiles. When allowed to mate, the female showed a 21 day reproductive cycle that was reflected in both faecal progestin and serum progesterone profiles. The concentration of serum LH was baseline before mating, increased approximately 30-fold within 1-2 h of intromission and returned to baseline within 22 h. Ovulation occurred within 46 h of copulation. The female conceived three times during the study. Pregnancy was detected using ultrasonography 14-16 days after mating, and the concentration of both serum progesterone and faecal progestins remained high. Early embryogenesis appeared to be similar to that in horses. However, each pregnancy terminated unexpectedly within the first 3 months of gestation. This study demonstrates the important role that basic research and reproductive technology can play in developing a natural breeding programme for an endangered animal in captivity.

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TR Robeck, KJ Steinman, M Yoshioka, E Jensen, JK O’Brien, E Katsumata, C Gili, JF McBain, J Sweeney, and SL Monfort

The reproductive endocrinology of the bottlenose dolphin, Tursiops truncatus, was characterized to facilitate the development of artificial insemination using cryopreserved spermatozoa. Specific objectives were: (i) to determine the excretory dynamics of urinary luteinizing hormone (LH) and ovarian steroid metabolites during the estrous cycle; (ii) to evaluate the effect of an exogenously administered synthetic progesterone analog (altrenogest) on reproductive hormone excretion; (iii) to correlate follicular growth and ovulation (as determined by transabdominal ultrasound) to urinary LH and ovarian steroid metabolites; (iv) examine the in vivo fertilisation capacity of cryopreserved semen, and (v) to develop an intrauterine insemination technique. Based on urinary endocrine monitoring of natural estrous cycles (2 consecutive cycles) and nine post altrenogest cycles in ten females, estrous cycles were found to be 36 days long and comprised of an 8 day and 19 day follicular and luteal phase, respectively. Peak estrogen conjugates (EC; 5.4 ± 3.8 ng/mg creatinine (Cr)) occurred 8 h prior to the LH surge (70.9 ± 115.7 ng/mg Cr). The time of ovulation, as determined by ultrasonography, occurred 32.1 ± 8.9 h and 24.3 ± 7.0 h after the onset of the LH surge and LH peak, respectively. Mean preovulatory follicular diameter and circumference were 2.1 ± 0.5 cm and 6.5 ± 1.5 cm, respectively. Of the 27 estrous synchronisation attempts, 13 resulted in an ovulatory cycle, with ovulation occurring 21 days post-altrenogest treatment. Intrauterine (4 of 5) and intracornual (1 of 3) inseminations conducted across eight estrous cycles resulted in five pregnancies (63%), one pregnancy resulted from the use of liquid stored semen, whereas four were achieved using cryopreserved semen. These data provide new information on female bottlenose dolphin reproductive physiology, and demonstrate that the combination of endocrine monitoring and serial ultrasonography contributed to successful AI using liquid-stored and cryopreserved semen.