Embryo transfer and artificial insemination offer many advantages to commercial animal production and nowadays the methods are used routinely in several species such as the cow, pig, sheep, goat and horse. Embryo transfer offers the chance to increase the productivity of a good female thereby increasing the overall rate of progress in genetic improvement. In the camel, embryo transfer could be of particular value to increase the number of progeny from desirable male and female genetic combinations for racing or for the production of meat, milk or transport. Furthermore, due to the camel's long gestation period of 13 months and its restricted breeding season (from October to March), the use of embryo transfer could increase overall reproductive efficiency in this species.
There are, however, two essential pre-requisites of successful embryo transfer programmes in large domestic animals. First, the ability to induce superovulation in donor animals by exogenous gonadotrophin therapy and, second, the potential to develop simple and practical regimes to prepare groups of synchronised recipients. Nowadays superovulation is achieved with a combination of follicle stimulating hormones, namely equine Chronionic Gonadotrophin and porcine or ovine follicle stimulating hormones, injected over a period of 4 days. Follicular growth has to be followed by ultrasonography of the ovaries on a regular basis to determine the correct time to mate the female to the male camel of choice. Eight days after mating the embryos, which are tiny spherical balls of cells measuring between 300 ? 600 Ám in diameter, are ?flushed? out of the uterus, using a catheter passed through the cervix into the uterus and special embryo flushing media, that washes out the contents of the uterus into collection vessels. The contents of these vessels are then examined under the microscope for the presence of embryos which, once found, are washed in fresh medium before being transferred into synchronized recipient (surrogate) camels. The recipients have to be synchronized with the donor animals so that they are at the same stage of their ovarian cycle as the donor when the embryos are transferred, and thus have a suitable uterine environment for development of the early embryo. Pregnancies can be detected by ultrasonography of the uterus between days 18 ? 20 after ovulation and these days pregnancy rates of 65 ? 70 % are now routinely achieved in dromedary camels. Using embryo transfer means that instead of only getting one calf from your elite female camel at the end of a 13 month gestation period this could be increased to 5 to 10 or more calves from your genetically desirable male and female camel combinations, thus greatly enhancing productivity.
The technique of embryo transfer can similarly be used in llamas and alpacas to help increase the number of animals with good fibre production and is becoming a popular addition to breeding programmes in many alpaca breeding farms throughout the World including South America, Europe and Australia.
The use of artificial insemination can also be used in dromedary camels to improve the productivity of male camels with desirable genetic traits. Methods for semen collection have now been established and the use of various extenders to dilute the semen and prolong the longevity of the sperm have been developed, together with the ideal number of spermatozoa to inseminate to maximize chances of conception. A good sample of semen can be extended and used to inseminate 3 ? 4 animals compared with only one animal being bred if the male mated naturally. Conception rates of 55 ? 60% can be achieved with fresh semen, which compares favourably with conception rates of camels that are naturally mated.
Present day studies are continuing to try and improve methods of cryopreserving spermatozoa and embryos so that the genetics of elite male and female animals can be more easily transported within and between countries and also be preserved long after the life of the animal itself.
The success of using these assisted reproductive techniques in Old and New World Camelids depends on many factors. For example, embryo transfer depends on success of superovulation protocols, methods and timing of embryo collection and transfer as well as quality of the recipients and their degree of synchronization with the donors. Similarly success in artificial insemination depends on ability to collect semen and use of suitable extenders as well as induction of ovulation in the female and efficient insemination techniques. World reknown experts in their fields of camelid reproduction will discuss all these topics and more at the up-and-coming International Congress of Animal Reproduction (2012) Camelid Reproduction Satellite Meeting in Vancouver, (Canada) from 3rd ? 5th August 2012. This ground breaking meeting, entitled ?Camelids the animals of the future in a changing climate: Reproduction, Production and Genetics? will cover all aspects of camelid reproduction including male and female reproductive physiology and endocrinology, embryo transfer and artificial insemination, cryopreservation of gametes, reproductive management and neonatology, genetics and genetic disorders, milk and fibre production. Experts will give research papers with new scientific data but also they will provide review lectures on these topics. Hence, our meeting is intended also for field veterinarians and breeders in order to facilitate communication and understanding between professionals and the Camelid industry.
This meeting will be held directly after the International Congress of Animal Reproduction (2012) (www.icar2012.com) also in downtown Vancouver, which promises to be an exciting venue. Canada is a country that enjoys large cosmopolitan cities, huge areas of sparsely populated agricultural land and unique, unspoiled natural habitats. Vancouver has all this to offer and more. It is one of Canada?s largest and most vibrant cities where tourism is an important part of the economy so there is plenty on offer in the way of tours, excursions and places of interest to visit. For example one could take the Skyride up Grouse Mountain, North America?s largest aerial tramway and take in the sweeping vistas of Vancouver, a ferry along False Creek to see Vancouver?s beautiful scenery, or head out to sea on a whale watching tour to see killer whales. Alternatively there is plenty of shopping on Granville Island, which is full of character shops and local handicrafts and superb places to dine out and soak up the atmosphere.
Further details of this exciting meeting can be obtained from Dr JA (Lulu) Skidmore (firstname.lastname@example.org), Dr Peter Nagy (email@example.com) or from the website (www.ICARcamelidsatellite.com).