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Robert Kent






Can cloning save the
Giant Panda? A new
debate in conservation
begins in China

Years ago scientists at Edinburgh University amazed the world by cloning a healthy adult sheep called Dolly from a single cell which had the genes of her ‘mother’. Ever since then, scientists in China have been arguing whether a similar technique can save the giant panda from extinction.

Experts guess that there are less than 1000 giant pandas left in the whole of China. The pandas live in bamboo forests in the high mountains. Their numbers fell dramatically earlier this century when large areas of bamboo forest were cut down and turned over to agriculture. Special reserves were set up in the remaining forest and a campaign started to protect the pandas. Pandas were also taken into captivity to begin a breeding programme so that pandas bred in zoos could one day be returned to the wild.

The panda is a national symbol in China and the campaign received a lot of attention. However, the panda is a very solitary creature and the number of pandas in the wild continues to drop. For years zoos have spent millions of dollars to place pandas together in breeding pairs. Almost all of these actions have ended in failure. As a result, experts predict that pandas will be extinct within 40 to 100 years unless some truly radical measures are taken.

Cloning is the latest such method to come in for serious discussion. Experts like Chen Dayun, senior biologist at the Institute of Biology of the Chinese Academy of Science, see cloning as the only practical option to save the panda. Chen leads a team of seven scientists who have been given a grant to conduct research to find out if cloning an animal like the panda can work.

However, many other experts in the Chinese community do not agree with this approach to conservation. They see the research as an unethical waste of time and money. They worry that cloning can actually destroy an endangered species like the panda even more quickly than natural forces do. Natural breeding allows a species to adapt and change. Cloning creates an exact copy of an animal that already exists. Cloning can therefore ensure survival of all the traits that make it difficult for pandas to breed. So cloning can represent the single worst thing that can happen to threaten the long term survival of the panda.

Pan Weishi of the College of Life Science at Beijing University supports this view completely. ‘To preserve the giant panda,’ he says, ‘we must protect their environment and the species that share the environment with the pandas. The forces of selection through the process of natural reproduction will then have a chance to work to save the pandas.’ Pan believes that panda numbers in the wild could build up quite quickly if the shy animals could be left completely alone in a fully protected environment. The risk here is that the animals could die out completely. But Pan thinks this is a risk worth taking compared with the prospect of saving the panda through a massive artificial effort that will have to be maintained for eternity.

This debate about the use of cloning in conservation has emerged first in China because of the strangely solitary nature of the giant panda. It is an animal which is found nowhere outside China. Today mankind faces the loss of one endangered species after another through the destruction of the environment. How long will it be before this issue becomes a feature of fierce scientific and religious debate? The fate of the giant panda may come to be a landmark for us all.

Source: New English Digest


amazed: surprised (sorprendieron al)
there are
less than 1000 giant pandas left: can be found alive no more than 1000 giant pandas (no quedan más de 1000 pandas gigantes)
forests: woody tropical grass forests (bosques de bambú)
fell: dropped - to fall/fell/fallen  (cayeron)
cut down: eliminated, reduced (eliminadas, reducidas)
turned over
to: changed into (convertidas a)
set up: established (
fueron establecidas)
breeding: procreat
ion (de procreación, de reproducción)
bred: procreated (to breed/bred/bred) (se reprodujeran)
breeding pairs: procreation couples (parejas
failure: lack of success (fracaso)

grant: money, financial support (subvención, financiación)
to find out: to investigate (para investigar)
can work
: can be effective (puede dar resultados)
unethical: not ethical (sin ética o principios)

: attributes (atributos, características)
to threaten: to endanger, to menace (
para amenazar)

long term
: long-run endurance (supervivencia a largo plazo)
supports: defends, agrees with (apoya, defiende)
to build up: to grow up (crecer, desarrollarse)
shy: timid (tímidos)
die out: become extinct (desaparecer, extinguirse)
emerged: come out, appeared (surgi
fate: destiny (destino)
landmark: turning point, important change (hito)