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Cornell Veterinary Student Publishes Findings on Cheetah Assisted Reproduction

A cheetah family shown in a grassy field.

The cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is classified as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, and scientists have implemented assisted reproductive techniques to aid conservation efforts. Carolina Baquerizo, a fourth-year veterinary student at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, was lead author on a Frontiers in Conservation Science paper on the effects of various anesthetic drugs on cheetah sperm quality.

Cheetahs are studied in the wild and under managed care to help bolster their populations, which historically suffered a significant bottleneck—a significant decrease in genetic diversity. Such decreases in genetic diversity can have adverse effects on population growth and resilience against diseases. Assisted reproductive technologies such as artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization can help augment breeding programs and yield more genetically diverse population of cheetahs.

Male cheetahs are placed under surgical anesthesia so sperm can be collected using electroejaculation, and the type of anesthetic used has been shown to impact the quality of the sperm harvested in a range of species. Therefore, choosing the best anesthetic drugs for ensuring the safety of the animal as well as optimal sperm quality is imperative for accomplishing successful assisted reproduction.

The focus of Baquerizo’s recent publication combines her personal interests in assisted reproduction and chemical immobilization as they pertain to cheetahs. This idea was born during her internship with the South-East Zoo Alliance for Reproduction & Conservation (SEZARC) in 2021.

“The goal of this retrospective study was to evaluate differences in sperm quality in cheetah populations treated with different immobilization drugs,” Baquerizo explained. Baquerizo and other researchers concluded that sperm parameters (motility and total sperm count) were lower when cheetahs were anesthetized with an alpha-2 agonist. Additionally, a decline in total sperm count with an increase in age was observed. “From a conservation standpoint, this information provides veterinarians and reproductive physiologists with more details about the sperm collection process that may aid in managing wild and captive cheetah populations,” Baquerizo stated.

This manuscript was a multi-institutional effort, including researchers from Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine, South-East Zoo Alliance for Reproduction & Conservation, White Oak Conservation, Smithsonian National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, and the Cheetah Conservation Fund.

Written by Victoria Priester, DVM ‘26

Related projects: Reproductive Biology
Related programs: Frontiers in Conservation Tech