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Dr. JoGayle Howard to the Rescue

When the fate of black-footed ferrets hung in the balance, it was one of SCBI’s reproductive physiologists, the late Dr. JoGayle Howard, who boldly accepted the challenge of using science to save the species. For more than three decades Howard dedicated her life and work to reproducing endangered species. Since she arrived at Smithsonian’s National Zoo in 1980 as a freshly graduated veterinarian (Texas A&M University), her intense focus on animal reproduction and her success at pioneering new techniques earned her the title of “Sperm Queen,” a nickname she relished.

Howard developed innovative methods for depositing sperm directly into the uterus of the black-footed ferret. The technique requires the use of a laparoscope, which is essentially a miniature telescope that provides a view of a patient’s internal anatomy to guide sperm to a position near the ovary where fertilization could occur. Howard discovered that the anesthesia necessary during AI procedures prevents sperm from being naturally transported through a ferret’s reproductive tract.

With Howard’s oversight, the National Zoo’s black-footed ferret breeding program flourished. More than 670 kits have been born at the Zoo’s Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, including 139 by artificial insemination. In 2009, Howard achieved a milestone when she produced black-footed ferret kits from sperm frozen more than 20 years ago from one of the original wild survivors. In 2010, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service bestowed on Howard the prestigious award of “Recovery Champion” for her leadership in recovering this endangered species. Howard leaves behind a trained army of individuals who are continuing to carry out her legacy with this species and others.

Posted September 2011