Wild raptors brought into an ex situ environment often have poor semen quality that is further compromised by urine contamination. Generally, it is believed that in birds, artificial insemination into the cloaca or caudal vagina of females requires large doses of high-quality spermatozoa to maximize fertility. In an effort to define and overcome some of the challenges associated with reproduction in wild raptors, the objectives of this study were to 1) evaluate the frequency, impact, and remediation of urine contamination in fresh ejaculates for the purpose of maintaining sperm motility and viability in vitro, and 2) develop a deep insemination method that allows low numbers of washed sperm to be placed directly into the magnum to increase the probability of producing fertilized eggs. The species evaluated include golden eagle (Aquila chrysoetos), imperial eagle (A. adalberti), Bonelli's eagle (Hiernaetus fasciatus), and peregrine, falcon (Falco peregrinus). Semen samples were collected and pooled by species, and a minimum of 25 pooled ejaculates per species were evaluated for urine contamination, pH, sperm viability, and sperm motility; the samples were either unwashed or washed in neutral (pH 7.0) or alkaline (pH 8.0) modified Lake's diluent. Female golden eagles and peregrine falcons were inseminated via transjunctional, intramagnal insemination with washed spermatozoa from urine-contaminated samples. Urine contamination occurred in 36.8 +/- 12.8% (mean +/- SEM) golden eagle, 43.1 +/- 9.1% imperial eagle, 28.7 +/- 16.1% Bonelli's eagle, and 48.2 +/- 17.3% peregrine falcon ejaculates. The pH in urine-contaminated semen samples ranged from 6.48 +/- 0.3 to 6.86 +/- 0.2, and in noncontaminated samples it ranged from from 7.17 +/- 0.1 to 7.56 +/- 0.1. Sperm viability and motility were reduced (P < 0.05) in all species for unwashed vs. washed sperm after 30 min incubation at room temperature. Two peregrine falcon chicks and one golden eagle chick hatched after intramagnal insemination. This study demonstrates that urine contamination, a common and lethal acidifier in manually collected raptor ejaculates, can be circumvented by immediate, gentle seminal washing. Furthermore, these processed sperm, when deposited by transjunctional intramagnal insemination, can produce live young.
Additional publication details
Producing progeny from endangered birds of prey: Treatment of urine-contaminated semen and a novel intramagnal insemination approach