The beasts from Brazil: country aims to clone endangered species

Guardian, By Jonathan Watts

Brazilian scientists are preparing to clone and hybridise jaguars, collared anteaters, maned wolves and other endangered species in an effort to ease pressure on creatures in the wild.

The project is being designed to supply zoos, but it appears likely to generate unease among conservationists who are already concerned that rare animal farming generates market demand and distracts from the more important task of habitat protection.

For the past two years, researchers at the agricultural research agency Embrapa and the Brasilia Zoological Garden have gathered somatic cells and spermatozoa from eight threatened species, including grey brocket deer, bison, coati, black lion tamarins and bush dogs, according to local media.

In the next stage, they plan to apply for permission from the government to conduct experiments on the 420 samples they have collected with the ultimate aim of reproducing the animals.

Cloned, hybridised and captive-bred animals have little or no genetic value and could potentially weaken wild populations if they are mixed.

The scientists behind the project say, however, that their goal is captive breeding and public shows rather than replenishing wild populations.

“The cloning is specifically for zoos. We don’t want it to become aconservation technique,” Carlos Frederico Martins, a researcher with Embrapa, told the Guardian. “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.”

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