Iranian refusal an obstacle to clone cheetah

Research in limbo

The project to clone the animals, which was first mooted by Hyderabad-based LaCONES (Laboratory for the Conservation of Endangered Species), appeared to have had a revival when Jairam Ramesh, who previously managed the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, had said that he was keen on importing cheetah from abroad.

However, the Iranians were not yet prepared to allow export of the animal or its semen which would enable scientists in India to resurrect the cheetah. Asiatic Cheetah disappeared from Indian landscape by 1952 due to large scale hunting and poaching.

LaCONES, set up by the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in partnership with the Nehru Zoological Park and the Department of Environment and Forests of the Andhra Pradesh Government, has been developing the cloning technology to revive extremely rare species.

A team led by Dr Lalji Singh, the then Director of CCMB, had pursued the project till around 2005-06 but were unable to carry it out due to refusal from Iran to export cheetah.

”Iran not only refused permission to send a male and female cheetah to India for the research purposes but also refused to allow the CCMB team to visit the that country to collect sperm and tissue samples from a cheetah in a zoo there,” Dr Lalji Singh said.

The species of cheetah resembling the ones that prowled the sub-continent is found in Iran. In 2003, during the state visit of the then Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, CCMB had tried to make a plea for a collaborative project on the cloning of the Asiatic Cheetah.

Dr Lalji Singh had pursued the idea of cloning cheetah after labs across the world reported cloning of various animals. Following the successful cloning of Dolly in the UK, Lalji Singh wanted a small amount of live tissue of the Asiatic cheetah from Iran in order to try cloning the animal.

The CCMB had planned to perfect using the Indian leopard as a surrogate mother to conduct the first ever cloning of the Asiatic cheetah. Ramesh’s statement had overjoyed scientist at LaCONES who were hoping that the Iranians would remove the only remaining obstacle for their dream project. But their stubborn refusal has brought groans of disappointment.

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