Lee Simmons, director of Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo, says zoos are focusing on in vitro fertilization to recover lost genetic material from threatened or endangered animals.
"We try to avoid cloning in the zoo world," Simmons said. It is counterproductive to the conservation mission of genetic diversity.
"We avoid breeding animals closely related to each other. We prefer to pair animals naturally or use assisted embryo transfers," he said.
A few generations of inbreeding can lead to a genetic wall, he said. Offspring tend to not survive or not live as long, not reproduce as well and have no biological vigor.
Supporters of cloning say populations of animals end up doing their own inbreeding and cloning can help in re-establishing genetic diversity.
The zoo will put its limited resources into assisted reproductive tools that will enhance and maintain the gene pool, he said. One need is to develop hormones to help artificially inseminated females bring their babies to term.
Henry Doorly spends about $500,000 a year on reproductive genetics research to develop techniques for artificial insemination using semen from animals alive or dead. Zoo staff members go to Africa to collect semen and eggs from animals about to be killed because of overpopulation. Many of those animals, from Kruger National Park in South Africa, have never reproduced, said Simmons.
The Paradise Earth Team was honored to be given a behind-the scenes tour of the Henry Doorly Zoo, and the opportunity to speak with Director Lee Simmons about their mutual interest in the rain forest.