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Cat Defender

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Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Clones of Endangered African Wildcats Give Birth to Eight Naturally-Bred Healthy Kittens in New Orleans

Madge's Five Kittens

For the first time in history two unrelated wildlife clones have given birth to naturally-bred offspring. This pioneering event occurred near the end of July at the Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species (ACRES) in New Orleans where two African wildcats named Madge and Caty gave birth to a combined total of eight healthy kittens.

Cloned domestic animals such as cows and sheep along with mice have successfully reproduced in the past. This also marks the first time that any feline clones, domestic or wild, have been naturally bred; cloned domestic cats, such as the famous CC, have so far been unable to reproduce.

Both Madge and Caty are clones of an African wildcat named Nancy while the father of both litters is a cloned African wildcat named Ditteaux. His father, Jazz, made history on August 6th, 2003 when he was born as the result of a cryopressed embryo being implanted in a domestic cat named Brooke.

In order to produce clones such as Jazz, scientists at ACRES, a division of the Audubon Nature Institute, first extracted DNA from cell tissues taken from African wildcats and then transplanted it to eggs (occytes) of domestic cats which had earlier had their DNA removed. Electrical stimulation was applied to the new eggs in order to produce cloned embryos of African wildcats. The cloned embryos were then implanted in the wombs of surrogate domestic cats who in turn gave birth to cloned African wildcat kittens.

The objective of this research is to preserve endangered species, such as African wildcats, from extinction. The process itself is fairly straightforward. Frozen skin samples from dead animals are used to create the clones and the genes are then introduced back into the population through natural breeding. Dr. Betty Dresser, head of the cloning team, said that while no single approach is going to save all wildlife from extinction, cloning is nonetheless an important tool in that process.

Having successfully cloned and then naturally bred African wildcats, ACRES is now turning its attention to assisted reproduction for endangered fishing cats, black-footed cats, and rusty-spotted cats. It is also working to save bongo antelopes, clouded leopards, and several varieties of storks.

Brooke and Ditteaux

The eight kittens will be exhibited to the public later this year but as soon as they begin to demonstrate their wildness they will be returned to the lab for additional study. The Audubon Nature Institute's web site does not say anything about adoption or returning these "guinea pigs" to the wild. Meanwhile, it is begging the public to adopt the surrogate mothers from its colony of domestic cats.

While the preservation of endangered species is certainly a noble undertaking, cloning remains nonetheless an exceedingly painful and sometimes deadly ordeal for the animals caught up in the researchers' web of manipulation. For instance, how many domestic and African wildcats did ACRES have to torture and kill just so that it could produce these eight kittens?

The Center is conspicuously silent on this point. Moreover, no group of cloners is willing to reveal their mortality rates. Consequently, no one can say with any certainty if saving endangered species via cloning is a good thing or mere barbarism. It can be safely said, however, that the cloning of cats and dogs for commercial sale is a prime example of capitalism at its worst.

Although damaged by Katrina, the Audubon's multipurpose compound weathered the storm better than most of the city thanks not only to its being located on higher ground but also because it had an emergency plan in place. Despite all of that, approximately 1,500 of the 10,000 fish at the Aquarium of the Americas died due to a lack of electricity to power the air pumps that deliver oxygen to the fish tanks.

At the Audubon Zoo, two river otters and a raccoon perished and a crocodile is missing. The Metro of Philadelphia reported on September 2nd that a rare white alligator named Thibodaux who is on loan to Jenkinson's Aquarium in Point Pleasant will be staying in New Jersey for a while longer because of damage to the New Orleans facility.

The zoo and the aquarium are expected to be closed to the public for at least a year. No information is available at this time as to how the African wildcats and their domestic cousins fared during the storm, but a whopping crane reportedly perished at ACRES.

Photos: Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species.