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Meeting the Challenge of Preserving Global Biodiversity through Reproductive Science

Linking Reproductive Science to Endangered Species Conservation Reproductive Science is the essence of species survival and is a research priority of the National Zoo.

Research in the labPrimary areas of study within the Department of Reproductive Sciences include gamete (sperm, egg) biology, embryology, endocrinology, behavior, cryobiology, assisted breeding, and reproductive health.

Our scientists work closely with colleagues locally, nationally and internationally in the disciplines of veterinary medicine, nutrition, genetics, animal husbandry, physiological ecology and population biology.

Primary Areas of Focus

  • Recovery of the Endangered Black-Footed Ferret
  • Genome Resource Technology and Conservation
  • Monitoring Hormones for Well-Being and Reproduction
  • Reproductive Health and Breeding
  • Marine Life Conservation through Reproductive
  • Technologies Reproductive Technologies and Conservation of Endangered Cats
  • Reproduction and Reintroduction of Antelopes, Cervids, and Equids
  • Improving Elephant Reproduction
  • Meeting the Challenge of Preserving Global Biodiversity through Reproductive Science

Successes and Milestones

  • Pioneering technologies to assist breeding and managing rare species, including developing consistently successful artificial insemination in the Eld’s deer, scimitar-horned oryx, cheetah, black-footed ferret, elephant, and giant panda.
  • First use of assisted breeding for large-scale production of black-footed ferrets for reintroduction in the American West.
  • Developing and implementing genome banking technology (frozen repositories of sperm, embryos, tissue, blood products, and DNA) to "insure" and assist managing species in zoos and in nature.
  • Forging noninvasive techniques to safely measure hormones in more than 50 mammal and bird species, ranging from the meerkat to the Bali mynah to the killer whale.
  • Leadership in research, management and conservation of African antelopes, elephants, Asian deer, birds of prey, fishes, the giant panda, black-footed ferret, and more than 25 wild cat species (cheetah, lion, Florida panther, and clouded leopard, among others).
  • Leadership in reproductive and biomedical studies in China that have helped to establish self-sustaining populations of giant pandas in breeding centers.
  • More than 300 scientific papers on the wonders of reproductive phenomena in never-before studied species.

Training the Next Generation of Conservation Leaders
black-footed ferretsThe Department of Reproductive Sciences takes seriously its responsibility to develop the next generation of scholars and wildlife managers who will be the frontline defense in conserving biodiversity. Our scientists teach students from the U.S. and abroad how to apply the scientific method to help manage and save small populations of rare species. More than 20 post-doctoral fellows, 40 graduate students and 200 interns (including some from the developing world) have experienced this unique training in the Smithsonian’s state-of-the-art laboratories. This first-rate, team-based science program shapes the careers of these young scientists by exposing them to diverse conservation science disciplines.

Future Needs

maned wolfOur priorities are to conduct high quality scientific research and to train the conservation leaders of tomorrow. Our programs are essential to understanding the biology and saving some of the Earth’s rarest and most fascinating species. Few challenges are more important, rewarding or necessary.

Grants and gifts from scientific agencies, corporations, foundations and private individuals provide more than half the budget for activities. If you are interested in a tax-deductible, charitable gift or receiving more information on the Department of Reproductive Sciences and its worldwide efforts on behalf of the Earth’s biodiversity, contact Dr. David Wildt, Senior Scientist and Chairman, Department of Reproductive Sciences at 540.635.6539 or .6595, or by email.

Research to Preserve Biodiversity

The Department of Reproductive Sciences is comprised of 20 scientists at the National Zoo and its Conservation and Research Center. These skilled and dedicated individuals use modern, cutting-edge technologies (often borrowed from human medical research) to study and preserve some of the most endangered species on Earth. They have been undisputed leaders in this field for more than two decades.

Partners in Progress

OrcaKey to our success has been collaboration among many disciplines to generate basic and applied information to improve wildlife management. The network for the Department of Reproductive Sciences includes the best scientists, universities and government/nongovernmental organizations worldwide. Moving people, knowledge and technology worldwide through its Mobile Laboratory ensures that expertise is shared far beyond the Smithsonian’s Washington, D.C., base.