A radical plan is afoot to save the endangered Scottish wildcat.
The project, sponsored by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, involves the use of artificial fertilization of domestic cats with cloned Scottish wildcat embryos.
The controversy over the plan is not about cloning, however. Instead, it’s because some animal conservationists see the domestic cat as the Scottish wildcat’s biggest problem.
The domestic cat (Felis cats), descended from a wildcat in the Middle East, is threatening the extinction of the Scottish wildcat (Felis sylvestris grampia). Feral domestic cats interbreed with the Scottish wildcats and produced fertile hybrids, diluting the cat’s gene pool.
Dr. Iain Valentine, director of animals, conservation and education at the Royal Zoological Society, said the plan is to collect and store tissue samples from Highland wildcats in order to use them in the future when scientists work out the best way of boosting their numbers in the wild with the help of artificial reproductive technology
“We’re still at the early stages of talking about applying this technology to the Scottish wildcat but it seems to me an absolutely perfect candidate species for it. The domestic cat and its biology and physiology is pretty well understood, so if we can take what we know about the domestic cat to unlock a little bit more about the biology of the wild cat, we will have a very powerful tool we can apply,” Valentine said.
The project will involve the Zimbabwean-born director of the Medical Research Council’s Human Reproductive Sciences Unit in Edinburg, Scotland, Professor Robert Millar, who has helped to establish an institute for the breeding of endangered African mammals using cloning techniques used on domesticated animals.
But traditional approaches to wildcat conservation, centered on restoring the Scottish wildcat’s natural habitat, are not being abandoned.
“Our first priority is to preserve their environments, to conserve the species in situ,” Millar said. “But if you happen to lose those environments you need to go to plan B, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to restore those environments sometime in the future and reintroduce animals,” Millar said.
The Scottish wildcat is not the only small cat on the endangered species list, however. To learn more about conservation efforts for other small wildcats such as the Pallas cat, Fishing cat, Flat-head cat, and Chinese mountain cat, visit the Small Wild Cat Conservation Foundation.
[Source: The Independent]