Cloning Breeds Hope for
Scientists’ $1m plan to save Asiatic lions and return cheetahs to the wild. Indian scientists have announced ambitious plans to use cloning technology to save the country’s dwindling lion population from extinction and return Asiatic cheetahs, which disappeared from
A team of a dozen scientists plan a $1m (£547,000) project to save the Asiatic lion, which once roamed
Just 300 of the lions, smaller than their African cousins, are left.
The Laboratory for Conservation of Endangered Species, based in the south-eastern city of
The last three, a mother and her two male cubs, were shot by a maharajah during a hunting expedition in 1947.
“Biotechnological intervention for the long-term conservation of species is a sound and most modern way of saving species headed for extinction,” Lalji Singh told scientists at a conference this week.
Cloning has been floated as possible saviour for endangered species since Dolly the sheep was born in
But many conservationists argue that the high costs of such experiments would be better spent on protecting animals in their native habitats.
First rescued by a prince at the turn of the 20th century, the lions live in the Gir sanctuary in
Dr Singh said in attempts to increase their numbers he had overturned conventional thinking with a series of breakthroughs. The big cats were once thought to be beyond saving as they were descended from a few dozen individuals, and hence vulnerable to disease.
“Some western scientists had predicted that Asiatic lions will become extinct in a few years because of their genetic homogeneity. But this is not correct,” Dr Singh said.
Perhaps more daunting is the prospect of repopulating the Indian plains with Asiatic cheetahs. Described as “critically endangered”, just a few hundred are left in
Although the project has been mired in red tape for nearly a year, those working on the cheetah project are predicting it will take off.
“There have been some minor delays but we are confident that the government of
The use of cutting-edge biotechnology is beginning to yield results throughout the world.
All these efforts used the technique pioneered by the team behind Dolly. But Dr Singh will not be allowed to use another cheetah as a mother, as the Iranians are unwilling to allow their declining breeding population to be taken abroad.
Instead a female leopard, plentiful in
This blue sky research has many sceptics in
Conservation groups in
“We spend millions of rupees trying to clone cheetahs and lions but where will we put them?” asked Belinda Wright of the Wildlife Protection Society of India.
“We are losing forests thanks to highways and road projects and poachers are killing our tiger population. Cheetahs need antelope to eat and space to hunt. We do not have enough of either.”
Mrs Wright said there were commercial interests involved, which tended to eclipse any focus on protecting biodiversity. “The government has big hopes of biotechnology in