ORLEANS — The latest rare wildcat kittens at a New Orleans conservation center were born from embryos frozen before Hurricane Katrina.
The two male African black-footed cats are among the worlds smallest felines. Theyll grow to about one-third the size of the average housecat.
Scientists in Omaha, Neb., collected and froze the fathers sperm in 2003. At the Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species, it was combined in March 2005 with eggs from a black-footed cat in the centers collection.
The embryos were kept frozen until December. On Dec. 7, the thawed embryo was implanted into a second female black-footed cat. The kittens, which dont yet have names, were born Feb. 13.
The southern African species is listed as vulnerable, with numbers declining because of persecution, loss of habitat to grazing and farmland, and dwindling numbers of the small rodents and ground-nesting birds they hunt.
They live in dry, open savanna, grasslands and semi-desert, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. It says there may be fewer than 10,000 adults in the wild, with no more than 1,000 in any single population.
Audubon said about 40 are in captivity worldwide, 21 of them — counting the kittens — in U.S. zoo collections.
As wild cat species dwindle, finding ways to keep their genetics going becomes more important, said Betsy Dresser, director of the Audubon center.
We dont know what the future holds for many of these species, she said in a news release Thursday. But we do know that by preserving DNA and working on protocol for creating pregnancies and producing babies through cryo-preservation and surrogate mothers, we are giving these species a shot at survival even when their numbers dip to dangerously low levels.