Sarah Biren
Sarah Biren
June 1, 2024 ·  3 min read

First Jaguar Born Through Artificial Insemination Was Eaten By Its Mother

Jaguar populations are declining so researchers turned to artificial insemination to try to help the species. They chose five healthy jaguars for this experiment, including one named Bianca. In November 2018, the scientists inseminated her with the AI Embryo Transfer technique created by the experts at the Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW). In February, the cub was born in good health at Brazil’s environmental organization Mata Ciliar. But it vanished from the maternity den two days later. The researchers believe it may have been eaten by the mother.

Bianca and Her New Baby

Bianca and her newborn cub
Photo: The Mata Ciliar Association

Unfortunately after two days, the cub died,” said a spokesperson for Mata Ciliar. “We don’t know why and cannot say if it was killed by the mother because it was not seen on the monitors on the second day. Bianca was a first-time mother and this may have influenced the outcome of the event. The veterinary team could not conduct a necropsy because the baby had already been eaten.”

According to Dr. Lindsey Vansandt, theriogenologist and the lead scientist on the project, filial cannibalism is not uncommon for carnivores.

Read More: 30 Smartest Animals in the World

Artificial Insemination for Jaguars

The research crew during the insemination procedure
Photo: Fernando VonZuben

Therefore, artificial insemination may still be a solution to saving jaguars. “The jaguar is the last of the seven species of large-sized felines to undergo artificial insemination (AI),” said Dr. Bill Swanson, CREW’s director of animal research. “The birth of this cub is an important historical landmark. It invigorates the possibility of the use of assisted reproduction as a management tool that increases the genetic variability of (captive and wild) populations and the conservation of these endangered iconic cats.

An Important Milestone”

A sedated jaguar is carried to an operating room to undergo artificial insemination at the Mata Ciliar Association conservation center in Jundiai, Brazil
Photo: André Penner

The laparoscopic AI method was developed by CREW. They had used it previously on other species of wild cats in need of conservation. “By using a systematic research strategy, we were able to improve our understanding of the jaguar’s unique reproductive biology and make species-specific modifications to our standard AI approach,” said Vansandt. “The jaguar is the last of the seven big cat species to be produced by AI. The birth of this cub is an important milestone and invigorates the possibility of using assisted reproduction as a management tool to conserve this iconic cat.”

A Bittersweet Experiment

Four-month-old jaguars at the Houston Zoo with their mother
Photo: Houston Zoo

After giving birth to her single cub, Bianca seemed to take good care of it for a few days, according to remote video monitoring. But after two days, the cub disappeared. “From a scientific perspective, we’re celebrating the fact that the cub was born healthy and that the AI was a success,” said Vansandt.  “It’s disappointing that the cub did not survive longer, but it’s not uncommon for carnivores, especially first-time mothers, to behave this way with their offspring.” Although the experiment ended tragically, the researchers involved have high hopes for its implications for the species.

Read More: Artist Creates Hyperrealistic Animal Sculptures out Of Sand and You’d Almost Believe They Were Real

Jaguar Repopulation

A cub tries to play with his mother at the Harry and Grace Steele Elephant Odyssey Exhibit
Photo: Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo Safari Park

In 2021, American and Brazilian scientists repeated the experiment on Bianca and another female jaguar called Tabatinga. However, the results of this endeavor have not been made clear to the public. 

Vansandt explained the reason for repeating the procedure. “The population sort of becomes smaller and smaller, and then you get inbreeding which has lots of bad consequences,” she explained. “If we can take sperm from one male and inseminate a female from another location, we can keep their gene flow moving and keep the population more healthy.”

A “Near Threatened” Species

A jaguar in the wild
Image for illustration purposes only. Photo: Nickbar | Pixabay

Jaguar populations have been declining due to habitat loss and poaching, giving them the classification of ‘near threatened’ in Latin America. They are the third-largest cats in the world. They live across 18 countries from Mexico to Argentina, in savannahs, shrublands, and forests. About half of their entire population currently resides in Brazil.

Read More: “The Brain Needs Animal Fat,” Psychiatrist Says


  1. “International Collaboration Produces First Jaguar Cub Ever Born from Artificial Insemination.Cincinnati Zoo. Angela Hatke. March 14, 2019
  2. “The first-ever jaguar cub born by artificial insemination was likely eaten by its mother 2 days later.” Business Insider. Molly Thomson. April 4, 2019
  3. “World’s First Jaguar Cub Born By Artificial Insemination Was Eaten By Mom, Scientists Persevere.Bored Panda. Andréa Oldereide and Donata Leskauskaite. May 28, 2024
  4. “Jaguar Facts.” WWF