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Monday, 16 October, 2000, 13:52 GMT 14:52 UK
India to clone cheetah
Cheetah pair BBC
India had its own cheetah 50 years ago
India is to spend over $1m attempting to clone a cheetah which vanished from the subcontinent 50 years ago.

A team of scientists from the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology in the high-tech city of Hyderabad hopes to make the animal copy within five years.

A sound and most modern way of saving species that are headed towards extinction

Dr Lalji Singh
The researchers will employ techniques similar to those used by American scientists, who are in the process of cloning an endangered Indian wild ox.

The ox, which has already been named Noah, is expected to be delivered by a cow in November.

Lepard surrogates

"Biotechnological intervention for the long-term conservation of species is a sound and most modern way of saving species that are headed towards extinction," the team leader, Dr Lalji Singh, was quoted as saying by the Indian Express newspaper.

Dr Singh and his team will take the genetic material from live cheetah cells and fuse it with empty leopard eggs. Any resulting embryos would then be carried to term in leopard surrogates.

The big problem facing the project is the absence of live cheetahs in India from which to source the DNA - the last Indian cheetah was shot by a hunter in 1953.

So, Dr Singh has requested the Central Zoo Authority and the External Affairs Ministry arrange for the import of a live specimen from Iran, where Indian cheetahs are still found in the wild.

Many attempts

"Any gender will do, but we need the animal very quickly," he said. Dr Singh is a DNA expert and was the first scientist in India to use DNA fingerprinting to solve criminal cases.

Wildlife experts in India are sceptical over using cloning to help conservation.

Gajendra Singh, a big cat expert, said the technique was expensive and tediously long. He also questioned the wisdom of bringing back the cheetah in a country where there was very little open scrubland left on which the cat could roam freely.

Cloning animals is generally regarded as a difficult and often haphazard procedure, with many attempts needed to get a successful birth.

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17 Sep 00 | South Asia
Indian tigers threatened
08 Oct 00 | Sci/Tech
Endangered species cloned
22 Jun 99 | Sci/Tech
Panda clone could save species
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