Dubai: Bint Shaheen, a female camel calf born at the Dubai (Pvt) Camel Breeding Centre on January 12, is believed to be the world’s first camel conceived using frozen sperm.
The calf was conceived through artificial insemination. The centre used sperm stored at minus 196 degrees Celsius that was collected from a champion stallion named Shaheen, now retired from camel racing.
Shaheen’s sperm was collected and frozen 13 months ago and then thawed to breed Bint Shaheen. The principle is similar to how sperm banks work for humans.
“It was a normal delivery. She weighed around 30kg, which is good. She has a good body structure, and was a little over three feet [when upright]. She was strong and was already nibbling and trying to nurse within hours of being born,” Dr Mushtaq Ahmad, one of the veterinarians who worked on the project, told Gulf News during a visit to the centre located in Wadi Safa near Dubai Hills.
Dr Jahangir Akbar (right), director of the project, said the idea of using frozen semen to breed camels at the centre was proposed by the centre’s owner, Shaikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai and Minister of Finance.
“Good stallions, or camel bulls, have a limited lifespan for reproduction after retirement from racing. Once they die, a lot is lost in terms of their genes. So in one of my conversations with Shaikh Hamdan, he asked if there was any way we can preserve the genetics of famous stallions,” Dr Akbar told Gulf News.
In 2014, Dr Akbar and his team started researching and employing the technique of freezing semen samples.
A pilot project was initiated in one of the biggest research institutes in Pakistan, the National Agriculture Research Centre. The second phase of the project was moved to Dubai in 2015 and is being run till now.
Dr Akbar said other centres around the world are working on the same kind of projects but “until now no one has documented their successes in this kind of project”.
Bint Shaheen’s birth brought indescribable joy to the team, including Dr Syed Murtza Hassan Andrabi, who worked tirelessly on the project for more than two years.
“It was unbelievable! We started with a very small sample and it’s very encouraging to move forward with the project,” Dr Akbar said.
Camels are a big part of the UAE’s rich heritage and camel racing is the one of the most loved traditional sport in the UAE.
In camel breeding, an offspring from a good bloodline can fetch hundreds of thousands of dirhams.
A camel born to ‘prestigious parents’ that have both won several races are also believed to have good chances to win in big races later on because of their ‘good genes’, among other factors.
Preserving the line of elite stallions after they ‘retire’ therefore is important for camel breeders.
“Artificial insemination is more beneficial because when we go through the natural process, there are more chances for spreading infection from the male to female or vice-versa. In this technique, while preparing the semen, we take out any infections and test its quality and [check the selected female for readiness] before insemination…to have more optimum results,” Dr Akbar explained.
An instrument to collect the camel's sperm. Photo: Pankaj Sharma/Gulf News
Also, the process is less strenuous for the camel bull as this technique can save its vigor and vitality in that in each semen collection, around 30 to 40 female camels can receive the donated genetic material.
The preserved semen can also be used even after the death of the camel bull.
Dr Akbar said the project’s current success rate is 70 per cent and it’s all because of two reasons: The high quality of the preserved semen and the centre’s custom-made extender for preserving the genetic material.
The centre now has two camel calves conceived using frozen sperm. A total of seven camels are currently pregnant and three calves are due for delivery within the next couple of months.
MVE Liquid Nitrogen Container for camel semen. Photo: Pankaj Sharma/Gulf News
Dr Akbar said the centre will be sharing and presenting the data in conferences. As for Bint Shaheen, she will start her training to become an elite racer once she reaches the right age.
“With this technique, we have better chances to get the excellent stock while preserving the genetic materials from the stallions for the future and we are able to produce the champions out of that,” Dr Akbar said.