Can stem cell research save endangered species?

northern white rhino, stem cell researchNew advances in stem cell research are giving hope in the fight to save endangered species.

Scientists have created stem cells for two endangered African species–the northern white rhino and the drill monkey. They “reprogrammed” skin cells to make them revert to stem cells, an early stage of cell development in which a cell can develop into different types of specialized cells.

It’s hoped that one day these stem cells could be made into sperm and eggs, leading to test tube babies that could bolster dwindling populations of some species. This has already been achieved with laboratory mice.

The white rhino used to be a favorite of safari goers and, unfortunately, big game hunters. There are probably none left in the wild, and only seven in captivity. These rhinos are the poster children of how tourism can hurt the environment.

This stem cell breakthrough is good news. With Obama scrapping tighter smog regulations and China discovering just how much they’ve screwed up their environment, we can’t rely on our so-called leaders to get us out of this mess. While environmentalists say we all need to change our attitudes in order to save the planet, that’s unlikely to happen. In fact, science is the only part of society that regularly advances. Common sense, foresight, and wisdom sure don’t.

Here’s hoping the scientists can give us a world where our children don’t have to go to a zoo to see wildlife.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Kenya attempts to reconcile wildlife and people

Kenya
Two recent articles in the Nairobi Star highlight the Kenyan government’s efforts to preserve wildlife while keeping the human population happy.

Kenya has always been a top safari destination and tourism is a major source of hard currency. Unfortunately, tensions between people and wildlife are heightening in Kenya and all over Africa due to deforestation and population pressures. Earlier this month, elephants broke out of Tsavo West National Park, destroying crops and scaring villagers.

The Star reports that 490 new rangers in the Kenya Wildlife Service will be stationed around the country, assisted by community scouts who will act as liaisons between the service and locals. The Kenya Wildlife Service has erected 1,300 km (807 miles) of electric fences to keep wildlife out of farmers’ fields.

Meanwhile, the government said it’s cracking down on the illegal wildlife trade, although the source for the article, Ministry of Wildlife official Mohamed wa-Mwacha, was a wee bit vague as to just how that’s being done. He recently ran a workshop on improving monitoring of the trade. He and his colleagues face a big task. There’s a huge demand for rare animals and animals parts, as you can see by the regular posts here on Gadling about poaching and smuggling, and an organized international network of smugglers.

Hopefully the bad guys will get locked up, the good guys can plant their crops in peace, and the Kenya’s precious (and profitable) wildlife will be allowed to thrive.

[Photo of kid riding tortoise at Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy courtesy Chuckupd via Wikimedia Commons]

Mother hippo rescues a baby wildebeest in Kenya – African wildlife

African wildlife - Mother hippo rescues a baby wildebeest in KenyaSometimes, strange and wonderful things happen within the world of African wildlife. A few weeks ago at Sanctuary Olonana, a luxury camp in the Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya, Mother Nature looked the other way while the nature of a mother hippo took over.

An infant wildebeest accidentally ended up in the middle of the Mara River, helpless and gangly and unable to swim. The calf had been crossing the river with its own mother (as part of the wildebeest migration, one of the natural wonders of the world), but was swept away by the strong current. The little guy wasn’t doing too well and a crocodile began to circle.


A nearby female hippo caught sight of the struggling calf and nearby croc, and swam to his rescue. Guests watched anxiously for an intense fifteen minutes as she gently pushed the baby wildebeest to the shore where his mother was waiting — a heroic and noble act by a notably aggressive animal. There’s no actual proof that she’s a mother hippo, but with maternal instincts like that, which stretched even beyond her species, I’m guessing that either she is, or she’s going to be.

These touching photos were taken by the Sanctuary Olonana camp manager, who watched along with the guests and staff of the camp. I can only imagine the cheering when the baby wildebeest was finally brought to safety.

A zebra trots down to watch the action:
African wildlife - Mother hippo rescues a baby wildebeest in Kenya

The hippo gently nudges the infant wildebeest out of the water:
African wildlife - Mother hippo rescues a baby wildebeest in Kenya

[Photos courtesy of Sanctuary Retreats.]