Could the birth of this surrogate African cat born to domestic US moggy hold key to survival of other endangered species, like pandas?
This kitten might look like any other ordinary moggy. But she could hold the key to the survival of her species and other species like the endangered giant panda.
Crystal is actually an endangered African Black-Footed cat born to a surrogate domestic cat after an embryo was transplanted into its womb.
In a world first, five IVF embryos were transplanted into the house cat, resulting in the birth of Crystal at the Audubon Centre for Research of Endangered Species in New Orleans.
Native to southern Africa, the African Black-Footed Cat is the smallest and one of the rarest African felines. They are classified as vulnerable and threatened by habitat deterioration.
Crystal was born on February 6, this year, but her history goes back to 2003 when her father's sperm was frozen.
In 2005 the the sperm was thawed and combined with eggs to produce 11 embryos. Nearly seven years later, five of those embryos were thawed and transferred to domestic cat Amelie on December 2, 2011. Sixty-seven days later, a healthy female black-footed cat kitten was born.
Audubon Nature Institute president, Ron Forman, said: 'Just as technology races ahead in every other field today, the science of assisted reproduction for endangered species has come a long way since we opened Audubon Centre for Research of Endangered Species in 1996.
'Now, another "first" in the field renews our hope for the future. We are proving this science works. We can provide high-tech options for many different species as the situation grows more and more critical for wildlife across the globe.'
Acting director of the Institute, Dr Earle Pope, added: 'As species like the black-footed cat decrease in numbers, it becomes more important to work out the science for keeping their genetics viable.
'We can preserve DNA and work out protocols for creating pregnancies and producing babies through cryo-preservation and embryo transfer, giving these species a shot at survival even when their numbers dip to dangerously low levels.'
This newest advance, proving that black-footed cat embryos can be transferred successfully to a much more common domestic cat, gives endangered species experts another range of options by increasing the number of potentially available exotic cat embryo surrogate mothers.
Crystal is being cared for by its surrogate mother and staff at Audubon research centre who say Amelie is doing an excellent job of bringing the kitten up.
Black-Footed cats are native to southern Africa, primarily Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa, where the population of less than 10,000 is declining due to habitat degradation and dwindling numbers of prey.
True to their name, they have black foot pads. Their rounded ears and large eyes aid these opportunistic nocturnal hunters in catching prey that includes small rodents, birds, insects, and reptiles.
On an average night, an individual can eat up to one-fifth of its body weight. Black-footed cats do not have to drink water; they get all the necessary water from their prey. They can travel up to nearly 10 miles searching for food in a single night.
Interspecific pregnancy is not a new concept but scientists have found that surrogacy between similar species tends to be more successful.
The Chinese managed to implant a panda embryo into the uterus of a domestic cat in 2001 but the cat died two months later. They are now investigating cloning pandas with bears acting as surrogate mothers.
There have been successful interspecific pregnancies between sheep and goats, horses and donkeys and mice. In 1984 a healthy male zebra was born to a mare at Louisville Zoo in Kentucky.
Source: Daily Mail