Semen parameters were evaluated on ejaculates of a captive population of red wolves (Canis rufus) sampled over two consecutive mating seasons. A total of 31 samples from 15 animals yielded mean sperm motility of 69.6 ± 19.4%, mean sperm density of 131 ± 124 × 106 ml−1, mean total number of spermatozoa of 470 ± 465 × 106 and mean percentage morphologically abnormal spermatozoa of 35 ± 11.8%. Restricting the data to animals sampled three times or more or limiting the samples to proven breeders resulted in statistically non-significant differences in these numbers (P < 0.05). When compared with data from other canines the seminal parameters of red wolves are at the lower extremes of the range. In particular the proportion of morphologically abnormal spermatozoa (35%) is approximately twice that seen in other canine species. Light microscopic analysis of abnormal forms revealed that almost half (45%) were bent defects, another 40% were secondary defects (coiled, detached and immature) and 15% were primary defects. Electron microscopy confirmed the presence of substantial numbers of morphologically abnormal forms including double-headed and double-flagellar cells, bent or kinked forms especially in the neck region, acrosomal abnormalities and bizarre spermatids. Approximately one-third of the samples also showed the presence of white blood cells, in some cases demonstrating sperm phagocytosis (spermophagy). These results are consistent with the concept of declining sperm parameters associated with restricted gene pools in numerically limited populations. However, alternative explanations are also explored.
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