Noah's modern ark: The role of ART in conserving endangered species

Berlin, Germany: Killer whales, giant pandas, cheetahs and black-footed ferrets are just some of the endangered species that are benefiting from advances in reproductive technology, the 20th annual conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology will hear tomorrow (Monday 28 June).

But, whereas in humans the focus of assisted reproductive technology (ART) is on producing a baby, amongst wildlife conservationists the focus is on the much more basic aim of simply understanding the fundamentals of reproduction in different species.

In an invited lecture, Dr David Wildt, a world leader in animal reproductive biology, will tell the conference that it is vital to wildlife conservation that specialists from a wide variety of disciplines work together.

"The most valuable contribution of reproductive science and ART to conserving endangered animals is the powerful ability to help us understand fundamental reproductive mechanisms in a variety of species," says Dr Wildt, head of the Department of Reproductive Sciences at the Smithsonian's National Zoological Park and its Conservation and Research Center, US. "However, genuine conservation is achieved only when the reproductive knowledge and technologies are integrated with other disciplines in multi-dimensional management programmes. Conservation is like an enormous jigsaw puzzle with lots of pieces. ART is only one piece, so with ART alone one could hardly complete the puzzle and contribute to conservation. What makes our field so different (and fun) is the need to work with other disciplines. For example, in our studies of giant pandas, we work closely with veterinarians, behaviourists, nutritionists, pathologists, population biologists and geneticists, and that is only on the captive side. In the wild, we integrate our work with experts in ecology, landscape management, geographical information systems and even environmental education."

Dr Wildt and his colleag

Contact: Mary Rice
European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology

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