Brazil aims to clone endangered species

Brazilian scientists are preparing to start cloning eight of the country’s endangered species in a bid to ease pressure on wild animals. The creatures to be cloned in the project, run by the agricultural research agency, Embrapa, are grey brocket deer, collared anteaters, bison, coati, black lion tamarins, maned wolves, jaguars and bush dogs.

Embrapa created Brazil’s first cloned animal over a decade ago. The cloned cow, named Vitória, died last year. Since 2001 the research agency have cloned over 100 animals, although until now they have mainly focused on cows and horses.

The aim of the new project is to supply zoos with the cloned animals in case wild populations collapse, though the eight species scientists will be cloning are not yet critically endangered. Scientists have collected around 420 tissue samples over the last two years, mostly from carcasses.

The cloned animals would be unable to survive in the wild as they will lack the necessary genetic diversity and they could potentially weaken wild populations if they are mixed. Embrapa has been keen to emphasise however that the cloning is specifically for zoos, and is not meant to be a conservation technique. Speaking to the Guardian, Embrapa researcher Carlos Frederico Martins said, “the idea is to test cloning technology so the zoo has its own repository of animals, which will avoid the need to take species from their natural habitat.”

Some conservationists have come out in favour of the project, with Ian Harrison of Conservation International, Virginia, stating that “while cloning is a tool of last resort, it may prove valuable for some species.” He added, “Experimenting with it now, using species that are not at immediate risk of extinction, is important.”

The plans have however been met with criticism from others who are concerned that the project distracts from the more important task of habitat protection. In the past, conservationists have criticised similar programmes for commercialisation, fostering complacency about rare species and offering an excuse for the resumption of banned trades in animal parts.

Brazil is not the first country where such cloning techniques are being considered for endangered species. In recent years, there have been reports of attempts to clone many different creatures across the world, including South African black-footed cats in the USA, wild buffalo in India, giant pandas in China and whales in Japan. Japanese scientists have even gone as far as to consider the possibility of cloning the long extinct woolly mammoth.

Sources include: The Guardian, New Scientist

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