August 20, 2005

Cloned Tabby Wildcats Have Kittens

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - -The little tabby wildcats are just doing what comes naturally, but the people who cloned them say their kittens are the last bit of proof that cloning can help save endangered species.

Ditteaux, clone of the male African wildcat Jazz, fathered eight kittens on two clones of Nancy, a female unrelated to Jazz.

It wasn't unexpected. Cloned sheep, mice and cattle have reproduced naturally. But it's the first time that clones of two wild species, or any cats, have done so, according to scientists at Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species.

"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," director Betsy Dresser said.

Properly preserved skin samples from a long-dead but genetically valuable animal could be cloned, and the cloned animal could breed, she said.

The kittens - five born July 26 to Madge and three born Aug. 2 to Caty - will be exhibited later this year at Audubon Zoo. When they mature, they will be moved to the small cat colony at the Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species.

The center is also working with critically endangered small cats, such as fishing cats and rusty spotted cats, as well as with clouded leopards, bongo antelope, and birds including sandhill cranes, whooping cranes, African saddlebill storks, milky storks and Jabiru storks.