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Last Updated: Monday, 8 November, 2004, 18:10 GMT
France plucks its bird from peril
The French cockerel (coq Gaulois)
In Latin, "gallus" means both rooster and Gaul
Scientists have hatched a plan to rescue one of France's most famous emblems from extinction.

The French cockerel has been a symbol of the French fighting spirit and ancestry for hundreds of years.

But French scientists found only 200 individual birds remained, in the care of amateur breeders.

They decided to cryogenically preserve sperm from the best birds to ensure they have a future in the face of any catastrophe.

The "coq gaulois" became a symbol of France hundreds of years ago due to a semantic quirk - the latin word "gallus" meant both rooster and Gaul.

The bird appeared on royal insignia in pre-revolutionary times, came back into fashion after the revolution, and is now often used mainly as a symbol of sporting France. It is also prized among collectors - more for its beauty than its taste.

But scientists were alarmed to discover the rooster's future in the balance - especially facing the growing threat of global epidemics, such as avian flu.

'Life of luxury'

Over two years, scientists raised young from the finest hens and cocks they could find in the country, Elisabeth Blesbois told the French news agency AFP.

Former French rugby coach Jean-Claude Skrela
The cockerel symbolises the French fighting spirit
"The birds, 40 of them, lived a life of luxury, and became beautiful specimens," she said.

"We chose 20 of them, took their sperm and froze it at -196C. For other species, the [cryogenically frozen] sperm lasts about 60 years, but this should last even longer," she said.

If the birds do become extinct, this sperm could be used to impregnate standard hens, and the offspring successively cross-bred to bring the bird back from the dead, she explained.

The sperm is stored in two separate locations.

Scientists would not just stop at the cockerel, said Ms Blesbois. She envisages the creation of a "cryobank" holding the sperm of different kinds of animals.

"The goal of this is to continue. The ideal would be to preserve every species which we are interested in. We want to warn people when animals are endangered and which we might need in the future," she said.

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