Frozen Zoo Looks to Revive Near-Extinct Species
It’s almost like something from Jurassic Park – almost.
From the San Diego Zoo to the so-called Frozen Zoo travel the remains – eggs, sperm, and other genetic bits – from recently deceased endangered animals with the hope that such creatures can be brought back to life and survive. Across 40 years or so, this Frozen Zoo has become the largest genetic bank, possessing material from over 10,000 individual animals from more than 1,000 species and subspecies.
A 40-year-old northern white rhino named Nola lives at the San Diego Zoo and is one of only five left of the species; there were six until 42-year-old Angalifu died to cancer in December. The death has spurred scientists to figure out the ideal way to use the frozen sperm to create another rhino, which is a possibility to occur within a decade.
The Frozen Zoo currently holds cultures from 12 northern white rhinos.
While there seems to be a chance to save the rhino and presumably other species, there are those scientists that question the energy and money that goes into such a process. Moreover, what’s to say creating a handful more would save a species that has been slowly dying out, especially too if there aren’t enough new animals created to breed genetically diverse offspring?
“The frozen zoo is basically re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic,” said Paul Ehrlich, a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University. “Screwing around with science to save a white rhino might be fun and I would like to see it preserved and am all for biodiversity, but it’s so far down the list of things we should be doing first.”
Instead, the argument is made that scientists and the rest of the world should address root problems, including climate change and rapid population growth.
The Frozen Zoo has had moderate success in the past. Artificial insemination worked in producing other rhino species, however, in cloning two endangered types of cattle, one lived only a few days, and both had genetic defects.
Still, there is a chance to save those species that are dwindling. Of course, scientists aren’t looking to go too far back in time.
“We’re not so much interested in bringing back dinosaurs or mammoths,” said Barbara Durrant, director of reproductive physiology at The San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research,
“There’s really no place for them now.”