Factors affecting reproductive traits in male snow leopards (Uncia uncia)

in Reproduction and Fertility
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  • 1 J Herrick, Reproductive Sciences, Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, Omaha, United States
  • 2 C Iske, Animal Science, Iowa State University, Ames, United States
  • 3 R Santymire, Davee Center for Epidemiology and Endocrinology, Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago, United States
  • 4 C Lynch, Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, Columbia, United States
  • 5 M Alonge, Davee Center for Epidemiology and Endocrinology, Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago, United States
  • 6 R Krisher, Research, Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine, Lone Tree, United States
  • 7 C Morris, Reproductive Sciences, Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, Omaha, United States

Correspondence: Jason Herrick, Email: jason.herrick@omahazoo.com

The population of snow leopards (Uncia uncia) maintained in U.S. zoos is no longer sustainable due to poor reproductive success. Our objective was to assess reproductive traits in male snow leopards and identify factors (markers of oxidative stress in seminal fluid, surveys of husbandry practices, gonadal and adrenocortical activity, dietary intake of various nutrients, and genetics) that may affect ejaculate traits and subsequent fertility. Ejaculates (2.9 ± 0.2 ml) from 32 male snow leopards (9.8 ± 0.7 y; 38.6 ± 0.8 kg) housed at 27 institutions contained 119.2 + 26.0 x 106 spermatozoa, of which 75.1 ± 2.3% were motile and 28.6 ± 2.6% exhibited normal morphology. Overall, 34% of males produced <5 million spermatozoa and 27% of males produced spermatozoa with <20% normal morphology. Activity of superoxide dismutase (SOD) in the seminal fluid was negatively correlated (P<0.05, r2=0.90) with normal sperm morphology. Husbandry practices, mean concentrations of fecal androgen metabolites (fAM), and baseline concentrations of fecal glucocorticoid metabolites (fGM), inbreeding coefficients, and generations each male was removed from the founders in their lineages were not correlated (P>0.05) with the total number of spermatozoa or the proportion of spermatozoa with normal morphology. Total sperm count was positively correlated (P<0.05, R2=0.86) with weekly intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) and the proportion of spermatozoa with normal morphology tended (P<0.10, R2=0.31) to be positively correlated with copper intake. Altering the nutrient composition of snow leopard diets could provide managers with a possible method of improving reproductive traits in this endangered species.

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