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Scientists in Brazil are to clone wild animals, including the jaguar and breeds of monkey, wolf and deer, to try to save them from extinction.Experts at Brasilia Zoo, who have already successfully cloned cows and horses, are hoping to start creating their first copy of a wild animal next month.
The eight at-risk species chosen are the jaguar, the maned wolf, the black lion tamarin monkey, the bush dog, the collared anteater, the grey brocket deer, the Brazilian aardvark and the bison.
Most are on the red list of threatened species compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
If it succeeds, the project is expected to be one of the first to produce a clone of a big cat. There are around 15,000 jaguars left in its natural habitat of North and South America, according to conservation experts.
Researchers have spent the last two years painstakingly gathering more than 400 genetic samples of the species from dead animals they found in the Brazilian outback.
Now the scientists, backed by EMBRAPA, Brazil’s state agricultural research agency, say they are almost ready to proceed.
“We already have 420 germplasm samples stored in our bank and are going to continue collecting,” researcher Carlos Frederico Martins said.
He said the next stage would be to train researchers in the differences between cloning wild animals compared to cows and horses, of which the country already has more than 100 living clones.
Mr Martins would not be drawn on how long it would take to produce the first clone – the procedure has a five to seven per cent success rate – but said it was likely to be a maned wolf.
The cloned animals are not intended to be released into the wild unless a species was at risk of total extinction, according to the zoo’s head of research.
“If a certain species was in a state of drastic decline, at risk of total extinction, and it was possible to provide reinforcement, we will have the capacity,” Juciara Pelles said in a statement from the United Nations-funded Tierramérica project.
“We are still in the phase of developing the technology, so we still don’t know if it will be possible to rescue a population in the wild, but we could potentially make it viable again,” she added.
The zoo is currently waiting for legal approval for the next phase of the project, but is hoping to begin the initial steps towards the first clone in about a month, she added.
The first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell was Dolly the sheep, who was born at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh in 1996 after a breakthrough that shed light on the biology of cells.
Scientists in the US and South Korea are also working on cloning wild animals.
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