On a Wednesday morning in September, two doctors, a veterinarian, and a gaggle of externs gathered in an operating room in a science lab deep in the dark, green woods on the west bank of the Mississippi River in New Orleans, Louisiana.

On the table lay Junebug, an ordinary brown-and-black house cat under anaesthesia. Her eggs were about to be harvested in order to be combined with cells from a rusty-spotted cat, the smallest member of the feline family and one of the rarest cat species in the world.

“Puncture!” Dr. Earle Pope, one of the center’s three senior scientists, announced each time his needle penetrated the cat’s ovarian follicle to suck out the oocytes, or eggs.

“Puncture!”

About 18 punctures later the procedure was done and Junebug was revived. She sleepily raised her head, twitching an ear as her eggs were carried into another room.