Research on reproduction is essential for captive breeding of endangered carnivore species
Assisted reproductive technology (ART) has great potential for conservation, but its successful application in captive breeding programmes of endangered species is often compromised by limited background on species' biology. Although carnivore species benefit from knowledge obtained in domesticated species (dogs, cats and ferrets), the focus of research is different. In pet animals, research in reproduction has mainly been focused on ovarian function and contraception, although substantial progress has also been made in the field of in vitro embryo production, transgenic embryos and cloning to aid relevant medical models. In endangered species, however, research should focus on characterizing reproductive traits (cyclicity and seasonality) to unravel species-specific endocrine principles of reproduction physiology. Based on this knowledge, it is crucial to enhance the ability to manipulate female reproductive cycles, especially those of embryo recipients. Furthermore, research conducted on molecular and cellular mechanisms of gamete and embryo development, as well as on cryopreservation protocols of gametes and embryos, is required for successful implementation of advanced ART to wild carnivores. This review will provide a summary on the state of the art with focus on ART contributing to conservation breeding of endangered carnivores.