The Vanishing Lions
Cloning the King of Beasts

lions laying in the grass

Can the King of Beasts be copied? That is the question some conservationists are pondering as lion populations dwindle worldwide. They say cloning — using advanced biological techniques to create genetic duplicates of existing lions — could become part of the effort to save the big cats. Other experts, however, are skeptical. Cloning lions would be difficult and expensive, they argue, adding that it won’t really solve the major problems facing the big cats, such as habitat loss. For the moment, they say, the money would be better spent on more traditional conservation efforts.

It’s a debate that couldn’t have even occurred a decade ago. Cloning a mammal was beyond the reach of science until 1996, when researchers managed to create a cloned sheep named Dolly. Since then, scientists have learned how to clone a host of other mammals, including mice, sheep, cows, dogs, and small cats. In 2002, scientists in Texas announced that they had cloned a domestic cat. They named the genetic replicate kitten “CC,” for “carbon copy.”

The breakthrough got some cat conservationists thinking. Cloning, they realized, could be a way to preserve the gene pool of dwindling cat populations, and perhaps create robust animals that could eventually be returned to the wild. In theory, genes could even be taken from the frozen tissues of dead animals, then reintroduced into populations through cloning. In essence, the dead could “walk again.”

In 2003, one conservation center began to follow through on these ideas. In New Orleans, the Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species succeeded in cloning the first African wildcat, the bigger, wilder cousin of the common domestic cat. Eventually the team produced seven clones. Then, in 2005, the researchers went a step further. Two of the clones were allowed to mate, producing eight kittens. The births confirmed the idea that maybe, someday, cloned animals might be used to repopulate endangered species.

“We couldn’t be happier with these births,” Audubon researcher Betsy Dresser said at the time. “By improving the cloning process and then encouraging cloned animals to breed and make babies, we can revive the genes of individuals who might not be reproductively viable otherwise, and we can save genes from animals in the wild.”

Ultimately, she said, similar techniques might be used to reinvigorate populations of endangered small cats, such as Asia’s fishing cats and India’s rusty spotted cat, the world’s smallest feline. “The goal is to use whatever tools we can to help boost these populations,” explained Dresser. She cautioned, however, that while cloning could help conservation, “no single approach is going to solve the incredibly complex problem of disappearing wildlife.”

That complexity has helped spark controversy in India, where in 2004 scientists announced ambitious plans to clone the highly endangered Asian lion. Fewer than 300 are believed to exist, and the small group of Indian researchers said they wanted to spend $1 million to clone and restore the big cats.

The announcement drew criticism from conservation groups, who said the project raised false hopes. One problem, they noted, is that even if scientists succeeded in cloning the lions, their natural habitat is rapidly being lost to farms and development. “We spend millions of rupees trying to clone…lions, but where will we put them?” Belinda Wright of the Wildlife Protection Society of India asked reporters.

In addition, experts predict that cloning a lion won’t be easy. The vast majority of cloning experiments end in failure, they say, noting that it took more than 300 tries to create Dolly the sheep. Adding to the challenge is the fact that every mammal species has its own biological quirks when it comes to reproduction. Cloning a dog proved far more difficult than cloning a cat, for instance, because of some details of its reproductive biology.

In India, lion cloning advocates predict those technical problems will be overcome. So far, however, no scientist has succeeded in cloning one of the big cats. For the moment, weighing the potential risks and benefits of making copies of the King of Beasts remains a mostly hypothetical debate.

  • marie p. williams

    I belive ,if we would focus on human, reather than animals,how to feed the poor,get drugs out of our country,then money would be spent for a more worthy cause.

  • unbelievable

    the war on drugs, the war on terrorism. the Race 2 Space, next Oil-Free America… created by the government… way of getting citizens to give up rights and money in order for a small group of people to further their agendas… those “wars” will always exist. They were created so other orgz can co-exist without questioning from the public. What has NASA done for us lately????? Oh yeah… determined that pluto is no longer a planet… sorry science teachers… gotta come up with a new song.

  • Meghan B.

    I belive that while yes, drugs, war, and the economy are all in need of some-scratch that, a lot of- atention, but what about having a planet to have a bad economy or ridiculus war on? I think all of us- not just the “importiant” people- should at least try to preserve ALL of it, animals,people, and land alike!

    ~Meghan, (Age 14)

  • Lara

    Let’s just re-create what we’ve already destroyed- and in a couple more decades we can do it again now that we’re god!

  • Jack Shilley

    I belive that this should not happen and is a disgrace to man kind! STOP NOW!

  • dan b

    i think its a idea to save the lions but i think we`re playing god.6666666

  • Evangeline

    Cloning? I think this is a very bad idea. I am 100% for saving and preserving the populations of lions, but I agree with most people on this message board. I think scientists are looking for an easy way out by recreating what people have destroyed. Why cant we work with the lions that currently exist in Africa? Those are the ones who truly need our help and attention. Cloning is playing God, and I feel that is should never be necessary. Science is good, but when taken too far Im afraid its down fall will out weigh all the positive it has done for us in the past.

  • Johnson

    Cloning is not a bad idea, but it will bring along the same weakness in a group of cloned animals and wipe the cloned animals again.

  • Johnson

    Playing God isn’t right, but God has given mankind the power to a brilliant mind and to save species by cloning.
    Therefore cloning is not playing God…its helping God.

  • olivia13

    Speaking of God, if we actually took care of this wonderfull gift he gave us (planet earth) and not abuse it, we would not be facing this problems. Hopefully one day soon we will learn!!!

  • Diane Underwood

    I don’t like the idea of cloning at all. It smacks of “Frankenstein” and the efforts to get that body off the table (don’t mistake the movie for just some hair brained scheme of a by-chance producer). I believe cloning would have just as many bad outcomes as there could be potentially “good” ones down the road. Help the humans responsible for the decline of the lion, or any other animal, if you can.

  • Bill

    Cloning is just like breeding naturally, minus the sex. I see nothing “ungodly” about cloning, we all want to reproduce, but maybe we don’t want our genes “tainted” by somebody else.

    We playing god more than ever by destroying the lion’s habitat at apocalyptic rates.

    LOL @ diverting the money to the drug war. If anything there is too much money going to things like that. Notice how almost NOBODY mentions that we should spend more money on education, it all starts with education. Educate the people, and the problems work themselves out.

    Speaking of god, don’t you think he would save the defenseless lions by smiting us? Maybe it’s god’s will that the lions be abolished because they are godless sinners.

  • Richmond

    Humans are the cause of all of these problems, if we arent’ responsible for saving our planet, who is? We need to do whatever it takes to help restore all of the destruction we have caused, period.

  • Stephanie

    I think it’s a great idea to clone the lions and whatever other species we’ve pushed out of the way. Along with various other methods they’re already working on I think it’s a wonderful addition to the tools we can implement in order to save our planet and the diversity upon it. It’s an excellent idea. I truly hope it works out in India.

  • EG

    Why not fix the problem of Vanishing Lions and other wildlife in Africa – hands-on – and stop what causes their population decline…

    A naturalist’s approach with some enforcement help is more useful than the idea of cloning. Get out of the molecular genetics lab and into the field to assist with conservation. Ditch the white lab coat.

    AS for the human condition, the problem started when humans placed themselves on a plane above the animals and nature. When populations increased through the last couple of centuries including in Africa then the issue of food, subsistence, and survival became a major issue. The animals did not cause any of this; however, promulgating the unimportance of the wild kingdom and pretending humans have any right to feel primaly more important than any other animal is tunnel vision and a trap in itself. Look around the urban and suburban neighborhoods. Conduct a survey of which households feel that they are the most important thing on the planet. This created the human condition. Animals did not create the problems,

  • greg

    i dont think they should clone them they should split the lions embryos to create twins

  • Yadira

    Along with many bubbleheads out there I truly wish and dream this would work. Unfortunately I would never work the problem were facing now is extinction. If we think about the cause we can see the solution is not cloning. What we have now is starving animals that are being pushed to the edges of the earth because of our greed. The truth is we wont be able to chance because no one wants to put forth the effort, and maybe we don’t deserve to see these majestic animals in there natural state.

  • Makenna Hunter

    I think this is an inportant topic to talk about because, my home state killed of there own state animal (califonia bear).

  • melody clarkson

    Since most have commented on the meat of the topic, I’d like to ask for more careful editing: lions are lying in the grass. I heard the misuse of the commonly confused verbs (lie and lay)on the program as well. On the topic itself: I love the idea of attempting to save endangered species through cloning–eventually the gene pool could be enlarged–however, we need to consider the small vertebrates and even invertebrates if we are to have a healthy ecosystem for the endangered species to ultimately survive. Unfortunately, it’s probably much more difficult to get funding for this less glamorous work.

  • Justin

    Cloning seems weird to me.

  • dustin claffey

    these majestic animals are slowly being erased from our planet. i want my grand children (im 29) to see them running in their natural habitat. not watching a dvd or looking at old pictures. we need to do anything possible to keep them alive and with us for generations to come. if that means using cloning, so be it. i understand the increase in the lion and tiger population could put stress on some of the animals lower on the food chain, but hasn’t there been an increase in other animals population due to the ever shrinking lion and tiger population? im all for cloning. keep these beautiful creatures alive at all costs!

  • eliza

    I absolutely adore lions, so couldn’t we raise lions who live in zoos so that they can be released into the wild. Like what Joy and George Adamson did with Elsa, maybe if some people got together and did this the lions would have a bigger chance. Not that much of a larger chance, but at least it would be a start. maybe I know it’s not a good idea and more than just me have probabally suggested this before but, maybe, just maybe it could work.

  • Angelina

    My suggestion would be to “clone the lions.” Its just my opinion though.

    But also, cloning is just making a lion that looks exactly like the other. Which is wrong in certain ways. Actually the problem is money! Because of the economy and such, and such which, scientist are not able to do so. But maybe if we was to supposably stop thinking about Homo Sapians and about different species, such as the Pantheras we could get to a better soloution. I think that humans are being kinda spoiled and has been spoiled for a very long time now, I am only 13 but I have seen all the spoiled affects!!! For example, BP and the big oil leak in the pacific. We wanted oil, we got oil, now we are poluting and poisioning animals in the sea because of something we wanted, and supposably “needed”…….right?….Wrong, WANTED!!!!! We wanted cars, and motorcycles, because we are to lazy to get around ourselves! I mean, the drug store could be just around the corner from your house and you would take a car just to go around the corner! How spoiled is that. But a reasonable excuse to use an automobile would be somewhere out there faraway like a job or something, not a lazy excuse like to go to a parler, Wow, another spoiled fact!!!!

    There are plenty of other things I could say, but im sure everyone is getting my point! All im asking in this, is if scientist thinks that they found a solution, try it. And if money is the problem, then maybe we could stop thinking about ourselves. I am planning to be a zoologist, and an animal behaviourist when I get older, and to specialize in big cats. But if the estimation is correct, lions will die out in about 20 years. In 20 years I will be 33 years old. I am risking my life to be a zoologist and to take care of big cats, but if lions are going to be extinct at my age of 33, whats the point of doing something I love if it isint there!!!!!!!!!!!

  • LOL

    WOW YO I BE AT SCHOOL

  • bob

    ilike turtles

  • bob

    i be”s at the school in the U.S

  • bob

    do You like waffles

  • Gibby

    ya no lets just look at the the biger pic bringing are brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, and every one else home and the how to save are econime then mabby if we got any money left. find a new president and were about the rest and figer out this thang we call word peace!!!!!!!! GOD BLESS AMERICA

  • Frank

    Im against cloning. Its playing god but thats also not the solution. You see, they need to make harsher laws fpr people who poach lions. They need to get rid of any canned hunting farms who grow lions up to be killed as a trophy. They should make tighter zoning laws as to where your farms stop and where the wildlifes habitat begins. Animals in zoos and held as pets should be rehabilitated for the wild.If they cant, then there offspring should be raised to become wild. They need to be protected, if you kill a lion there should be a tight sentence. They need to protect the animals as a whole. Cloning them should be a last effort done if like there are only 200 left in the world as a whole. There are sadly only 16,000 lions in the wild. However, the number of lions in zoos, rehabilitation centers,circuses, and load and be hold ,peoples backyards,is large. Just look at the story about the ohio man who had 49 animals killed when he released them. 17 of those animals were lions!. Maybe they would be released but whose to say there cubs couldn’t? or there “grandcubs” for lack of a better term. There are so many different ways we can try to atleast attempt to start rebuilding the population. If were going to spend billions of dollars, why not spend it on something that will at least work. Not something that it will take 30 or 40 or maybe even over 100 times. I mean really , think about it…seems logical ,no? I wanted to become a lion conservationist ( currently an 18 yr old college student) and open my own sanctuary were I could resuce these regal,majestic,beautiful,cats from whatever shameful life they lived prior and have them live out there days in the center. The ones able to breed, mainly the most healthy , would sire and/or give birth to the next generation who would be reared and rehabilitated for the wild. This is possible. All animals harbor their wild instincts. Sadly,older animals who lived in captivity are more then likely unchangeable but a young cub reared and trained as a wild cat with little human human interaction has a greater number of returning. You may ask, one issue, “what happens if they dont do well in the wild,how would we know” .Well you track them, possibly radio the first lets say 10 that started the project.They adjust,lets say you put them in a ,this is an example so please donot scale, 40 acre enclosure, their own prey to catch etc etc, they do well then you move them to an 100 acre enclusre, their own prey etc etc if they do well then you realse them to the wild. Though this will take alot of time and money, it seems more worth it rather then try to clone the animal.

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