Common Housecat Gives Birth to a Rare African Kitten

black-footed kitten photo.AudubonInstitute/Video screen capture

Housecats generally aren't known for their magnanimity or charitable spirit -- but still one domestic feline in New Orleans is grabbing headlines for her extraordinary gift towards wildlife conservation. For the first time ever, conservationists from the Audubon Nature Institute have successfully used a common cat as surrogate to a tiny African black-footed kitten, an adorable yet dwindling species.

Using a relatively new process called inter-species embryo transfer, scientists implanted eggs artificially inseminated from two black-footed parents into a regular old housecat named Amelie. Three months later, she gave natural birth to Crystal, a kitten of another species -- and boy is she cute!

In an interview with WAPT-TV, President and CEO of the Audubon Nature Institute President, Ron Forman, says the pioneering technique that gave birth to Crystal could offer hope not only to her kind, but to imperiled species the world over.

“Just as technology races ahead in every other field today, the science of assisted reproduction for endangered species has come a long way since we opened Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species in 1996. And now, another ‘first’ in the field renews our hope for the future. We are proving this science works. We can provide high-tech options for many different species as the situation grows more and more critical for wildlife across the globe.”

Though the outcome these new technologies is certainly quite fluffy and adorable, the work of scientists at this and other facilities is serious business. African black-footed cats have been on the U.S. Endangered Species list since the 1970s -- and though progress has been made towards perserving them, only 10,000 are thought to remain in the wild.

"They haven't reproduced well in captivity at all. This is really prevention, for the future, keeping species from going extinct," says Betsy Dresser of the Audubon Nature Institute. "They're so low in number. If we don't do something, we're going to lose them."

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