Last of her kind: Celia, the ibex from the Pyrenees

Celia would have been the first of her kind, the mother of a new line of revived goats, had her clone survived. But even though the kid lived for only 10 minutes after birth, Celia’s clone revived hopes that we can bring species back from extinction. Can we? Should we?

The Pyrenean ibex, bucardo

The Pyrenean ibex

Celia died crushed by a fallen tree in 2000, in Ordesa National Park in Spain. The last male had died in 1991. Celia was a Pyrenean ibex (Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica), Spanish common name bucardo, a goat species whose decline happened in our time, under our deficient watch. From the website The Sixth Extinction:

    According to Guy Beaufoy, a policy officer of WWF Spain, the “Pyrenean Ibex had disappeared because the Spanish government acted too late to save it. He said “Although hunting had reduced the animal’s numbers to fewer than a hundred by the turn of the last century, a management plan to preserve it was not put into place until 1993, when only about 10 individuals remained” (McCarthy 2000). In general it can be said that its extinction is Europe’s first great conservation failure of the twenty-first century, as the European Union acted too late as well.

But a year before she died, Celia had been captured by a team including wildlife veterinarian Alberto Fernández-Arias and José Folch, working for the Aragon regional government. The scientists took tissue samples and released Celia. It was known the Pyrenean Ibex did not thrive in captivity. Three years after Celia was found dead, the biotech company Advanced Cell Technology, Inc. offered to clone her preserved samples. But this was 2003, a mere seven years after Dolly the sheep became the first clone to survive.

Today, ten years after Celia’s clone perished, technological advances once again fuel hopes of bringing species back. The revival of an extinct species is no longer a fantasy, writes Carl Zimmer in the April 2013 issue of National Geographic:

    The notion of bringing vanished species back to life—some call it de-extinction—has hovered at the boundary between reality and science fiction for more than two decades, ever since novelist Michael Crichton unleashed the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park on the world. For most of that time the science of de-extinction has lagged far behind the fantasy. Celia’s clone is the closest that anyone has gotten to true de-extinction. Since witnessing those fleeting minutes of the clone’s life, Fernández-Arias, now the head of the government of Aragon’s Hunting, Fishing and Wetlands department, has been waiting for the moment when science would finally catch up, and humans might gain the ability to bring back an animal they had driven extinct.
    “We are at that moment,” he told me.

But is it a good idea? Wouldn’t it be best to spend the money and effort to preserve endangered species? And what about space itself, with cities and parking lots and ag fields and suburbia spreading where once animals roamed ?!

The Sixth Extinction


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