Cloning Endangered Species and Undermining Conservation

For the past decade, some scientists have lauded the use of cloning technology in an effort to save endangered species or even ‘resurrect’ extinct ones. Indeed, several endangered species, including the mouflon, a European wild sheep; the banteng, a rare species of Asian cattle; and the African wildcat, have all been cloned during the past few years. The first endangered clone, Noah, a guar (an ox species native to southeast Asia and India), died within 48 hours of his birth. An attempt to clone another wild sheep, the argali, failed to produce live offspring.

Some zoos see cloning as a way to propagate members of endangered species, and they maintain ‘frozen zoos,’ biological samples of deceased animals whom they may seek to clone in the future. However, as with most captive bred animals, it is extremely unlikely that cloned animals will ever be released into the wild, since they rely on learning survival skills from their parents and other members of their species—traits that could not be demonstrated by domestic surrogate mothers or other captive animals. It is also important to note that it is extremely unlikely that a viable breeding population would be created from a few cloned animals, because of the tremendous loss of genetic diversity that is needed to sustain populations in the wild.

Regardless of the millions of dollars spent on cloning endangered species, the very reasons that these animals are suffering precariously depleted numbers is an issue that still needs to be addressed. Prime among them is the fact that the habitats of endangered animals are being destroyed at alarming rates. Because of this, protecting wild populations and their habitats is one of the most important ways to effectively save endangered species.

Nonetheless, in disregard of the improbability and waste of funding that would otherwise fuel conservation efforts, some scientists are looking to clone species who are long extinct, like the woolly mammoth and Tasmanian tiger. Despite the controversy over the goals of cloning members of endangered species and the inherent animal suffering, researchers are moving forward with experiments to clone species such as the giant panda, ocelot, and cheetah.

AV Magazine | Spring 2007
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