UPDATE: David Wildt passed away on January 15, 2020. His obituary is available here.

David Wildt was a senior scientist emeritus and formerly led the Center for Species Survival team that generates much of what we now know about how many wildlife species reproduce. He also managed the wildlife animal collection at the Smithsonian Conservation and Biology Institute’s 3,200 acre facility near Front Royal, Virginia. He used basic and applied research to create new knowledge that lead to better management and conservation of small populations, especially endangered species. While centered on reproduction, his research efforts connected to genetics, veterinary medicine, behavior, nutrition, ecology and the reintroduction of species to nature. This cross-disciplinary integration through partnerships was fundamental to Wildt’s philosophy.

Wildt described the impact of small populations and inbreeding on sperm form and function, including on free-living cheetahs and lions. He and his team  described the biological processes related to reproductive cyclicity, sperm, egg and embryo development in carnivores, especially felids and canids. This information has been used to produce young by assisted breeding technologies. Wildt’s laboratory was the first to produce domestic cat kittens by fertilization, later applied successfully to the tiger. His team conducted the first successful transcontinental shipment of frozen sperm from a threatened species (a wild cheetah in Namibia) to produce a cub by artificial insemination in North America. His laboratory also produced black-footed ferret kits using sperm that had been cryo-banked for 20 years — a milestone that increases gene diversity in the recovering population of this critically endangered species.



An estimated 25 percent of carnivores are in danger of extinction. Smithsonian scientists are working to save them.

Does Group Management of Male Cheetahs Influence Reproductive Fitness?

Scientists are working to save cheetahs by studying how different conditions, such as range and coalition size, impact reproduction.

Investigating Poor Reproduction in Captive Whooping Cranes

Smithsonian scientists are studying management approaches to improve reproduction among North American whooping cranes in human care. 

Ovarian Follicle Culture in the Dog and Cat

Smithsonian scientists were the first to successfully use in vitro fertilization in domestic dogs and hope to apply these techniques to save vulnerable species, such as the maned wolf.


Many ungulates, or hooved mammals, are at risk of extinction. Scientists study their reproductive biology to help establish self-sustaining populations in zoos and in the wild.