This is a little too Blade Runner-esque for comfort, but it is one way Brazil is fighting extinction of their native species.
Throughout Brazil’s richly diverse habitats stretching from the Amazon Basin to the Mantiqueira mountains, populations of jaguar, maned wolf, black lion, bush dog, bison, collared anteater, gray brocket deer, and coati are dwindling as deforestation wipes out more of their homeland. All of those animals are on the Red List of Threatened Species.
Brasilia Zoological Garden and the Brazilian government’s agricultural research agency EMBRAPA aren’t employing a plan to restore habitat. Instead, they’re cloning the animals.
Officials say the main goal will be to clone the animals for zoos, leaving the wild populations alone… but some of the clones will also be released. Scientists plan to use genetic material from dead animals for the clones.
First up for the process is the maned wolf, though researchers won’t be creating any animals just yet. There’s a lot of preparation in order, as well as jumping political hurdles. Conservationist groups don’t always take kindly to cloning programs, and researchers need time to consider how an animal with a replicated genetic code will affect a wild population. Not to mention dealing with cloning laws and the many restrictions that will come into play simply because of the sheer size of the population.
At the end of the day, it might be easier just to save a few more trees.
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One could argue that the maned wolf is going extinced because its genetic code makes it unsuccessful in the new, changed and changing landscape of Brazil. If maned wolves are going to to survive in this new landscape, they need to develop new, advantageous genetic adapations that allow them to occupy a more viable niche. Cloning a bunch of dead maned wolves might not do much but flood the gene pool with genes that code for unsuccessful adaptations. From the genetic perspective, it would kind of be like natural selection in reverse, survival of the unfittest. Cloning might work better if they continuously cloned the maned wolves that seemed to be doing well, relative to the rest of the dwindling population. These wolves might already have some genetic adaptations that give them a better ability to survive in the changed Brazil landscape, and increasing the proportion of these genes in the gene pool might have the best chance of putting the species back on the path to recovery.