Abstract and Keywords
This chapter examines the practices and logics that are being argued for when cloned animals are unequivocally classified as part of the endangered species. Focusing on the cloned gaur, African wildcats, and sand cat, it explores how cloning is articulated in order to pursue the scientific identity of the zoological park through technology development. The chapter first considers the cloning of an endangered sand cat at the Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species (ACRES) in New Orleans before turning to the mesolevel, organizational work involved in the gaur and African wild cat cloning projects. It suggests that the focus on technology development—embodied by the cloned gaur, African wildcats, and sand cat—is consistent with the original formulation of the reproductive sciences that became incorporated into zoological parks.
What happens when cloned animals who have inherited DNA from both an endangered and a domestic animal are considered indisputably part of the endangered species? What kinds of scientific practices are enabled by this classification? What kinds of human-animal relationships are activated in the zoo through this classificatory practice? In varying ways, the cloned gaur, African wildcats, and the sand cat all embody this set of classificatory practices.
This chapter describes the scientific practices embodied by each of these animals. Gaining the technological infrastructures, tacit knowledge, and embodied skills required to do cloning and related reproductive techniques was the focus of scientists’ work within each of these projects. Here scientists have sought to make endangered animals for the zoo. This goal has been embedded in the history of assisted reproduction within U.S. zoological parks, and has shaped the ways in which cloning has been articulated. In practice, the desire to make endangered animals has directed the kinds of animals produced by way of interspecies nuclear transfer. Symbolically, the spectacle of these cloned animals has lied in the ability to make wild life through technoscientific means. Technology is here understood as a possible solution to contemporary environmental problems that humans have created. Technology can improve the “health” of both humans and animals if research is jointly carried out. Cloned endangered animals live to represent such an imagined future.
This chapter begins by describing what cloning an endangered animal looks like within this set of classificatory practices. I focus on the microlevel practices involved at the Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species (ACRES) in cloning an endangered sand cat. This experiment was ongoing while I was conducting the research. I then (p.48) recount the mesolevel, organizational work that went into the gaur and African wild cat cloning projects based on interview material and published documents, as both these experiments had been completed when I was conducting the research. Based on the organization of cloning practices across these projects, I characterize each as experiments in technology development. The spectacle of zoo science has here lied in humans’ ability to make “wild” animals in the laboratory.
In July 2006 I made a trip to ACRES in New Orleans in order to see cloning endangered animals “in action” (Latour 1987). The ACRES laboratory is part of the Audubon Nature Institute, an umbrella organization that brings a number of urban wildlife organizations together, including the city’s zoo. But whereas the zoo is located in the middle of New Orleans and is open to the public, ACRES is on 1,200 acres of gated land in the more rural West Bank. This is where the cloned African wildcats were born and live. When I visited this lab, the technical skills developed in cloning African wildcats were being used to clone an endangered sand cat.
Upon arrival at ACRES, I was given scrubs to change into in preparation for surgery, which initiated the day’s somatic cell nuclear transfer activities. Entering the surgery theater with the senior scientist and veterinarian, I saw an anaesthetized, domestic cat positioned belly up, with its four legs splayed out from its body and its tongue clamped outside its mouth to avoid choking. Support staff were already in their places around the cat, which included a lab tech, an anesthesiologist, a person responsible for collecting the vials of retrieved follicles, and a person responsible for taking notes regarding the performance of the cat. In addition, another small, dimly lit room was connected to the surgery through a large, square window. This room housed a microscope used by a final person who was responsible for receiving the follicles, transferring the cells to a petri dish, and counting the number of eggs retrieved from the follicles under a microscope. I found a spot to stand next to the lab tech, where I could get a good view of the surgery as displayed on two monitors overhead.
Surgery and the day’s cloning activities began. The cat’s abdomen was incised. Probes were inserted to visualize the inside of the body on two (p.49) computer monitors, making the ovaries visible to all of us. Forceps held the ovaries in place. The senior scientist loudly called out “Puncture. Puncture. Puncture.” as the ovary was repeatedly pierced to remove the follicles. After several punctures, the ovary was wiped clean of blood and the process continued until no more follicles could be found. The process was repeated on the second ovary. A tally was made next door; sixty-seven eggs had been retrieved.
The surgery began to buzz with chatter, and everyone appeared rather happy with this outcome. The woman in charge of taking notes about the performance of the cat turned to me with a smile, exclaiming that I must be their good luck charm. I probably looked rather confused, because the lab tech continued by explaining that the domestic cats in their colony had not been producing many eggs lately. And one of their “best performers” had just done her tenth retrieval, meaning that she would be retired as a research subject and made available for adoption into a home. The lab tech said that they had sufficient eggs, and so the laboratory would be able to continue their cloning experiments over the next two days. And I would be able to continue to see how cloning was being articulated within this laboratory setting.
At this point, all the members of the team dispersed and the lab tech asked me to join her. We walked out of the surgery theater, and down the hall to the embryo lab where the embryologist, Martha, was at work. The lab tech told her the good news regarding the number of eggs, as Martha took the petri dish to view her research materials under a microscope. “Take a look, Carrie.” Looking through the microscope, all I could see was tissue and blood. “I don’t know what I am looking at,” I said to Martha. She laughed, and said that was because she would have to clean and denude the eggs first. The lab tech said we should leave Martha to it, as we needed to return to surgery for the second egg retrieval. This preceded much like the first and resulted in about seventy more eggs for the lab to work with that day.
When the lab tech and I returned to the embryo lab, bringing the second batch of eggs to Martha, we entered a transformed space. The lights were now dimmed in the once brightly lit room and classical music played softly in the background. Martha was seated at a different microscope, with her back to us. Her work was displayed on a computer screen above her, now representing clearly discernible egg cells (p.50) against a blue background that is an archetypal image of somatic cell nuclear transfer. The lab tech quietly went about arranging the second batch of ova for Martha, who called out “Hi, Carrie. Sit down.”
I took a seat behind Martha, who explained her work as I watched on the computer monitor. She pulled one cell away from the group, looking for the polar body to determine if the egg was mature. If not, she would move the egg to a section of the petri dish designated for waste material. If the egg was mature, she would quickly x-ray it to see the nucleus, careful not to overexpose and damage it in the process. Martha used this image to direct her pipette through the cell wall toward the nucleus, which was then suctioned out and placed with the other waste materials. Martha then moved to the section of the petri dish that housed the somatic cells taken from an endangered sand cat, whose genome was being reproduced through the nuclear transfer process. One somatic cell was suctioned into the pipette, brought back to the enucleated egg, and inserted within the cell. After all the eggs had been re-enucleated with sand cat somatic cells and the waste material suctioned out and disposed of, the petri dish was placed in an incubator. Martha then began this rhythmic process again, which was almost lulling to watch in the darkened embryo lab in which classical music played softly in the background.
Martha got up once this next batch of somatic cell nuclear transfers was complete, placed the petri dish in the incubator, and removed another petri dish containing cells that had been micro-manipulated. She brought this petri dish to a different microscope. Below the eyepiece were probes that were brought around each cell one at a time, generating an electrical pulse that would fuse the somatic cell into the egg cell. Martha explained that the biotechnology companies often used a different machine that fused all the cells in the petri dish at once. However, given the lack of research materials available where endangered animals are concerned, ACRES opted to fuse the cells one at a time in order to increase their success rate. Fusing the cells is crucial to the somatic cell nuclear transfer process, in that it makes two separate cells into one. These cells were then put into another culture and incubated overnight. The next morning, the cells that divided properly were transferred back to the domestic cats that had acted as egg donors in the morning surgeries. These cats would serve as the surrogates to the endangered sand cat clones.
(p.51) After the visual aspects of somatic cell nuclear transfer were complete, I left the embryo laboratory and shadowed a lab tech in order to watch some of the work that supports this research endeavor. I prepped to enter the domestic cat colony, watching the lab tech and animal attendant test the cats for the following week’s surgeries and interspecies nuclear transfers. I chatted with the veterinarian while he took a break from painting one of the rooms in the domestic cat colony. I watched the lab tech take a sperm sample from a domestic tomcat for an in vitro fertilization experiment. The lab tech carefully recorded her activities. She mentioned that because the lab had had so many difficulties getting cloning to work, they very carefully recorded their laboratory activities so that “the system” could be constantly monitored and tinkered with.
Significantly, domestic cats were strongly present in the articulation of cloning within this lab. Domestic cats were patients in surgery. Domestic cat ova were counted, cleaned, enucleated, and transformed. The cats in the colony made up a collection of sentient beings that were fed, petted, consoled, tested, and whose living spaces required cleaning and maintenance. The policy at ACRES is that no domestic cats are euthanized, and so the lab also runs a quasi-adoption center. Meanwhile, my closest sighting of a sand cat came in the form of a somatic cell (re)imaged on a monitor. While sand cats were the object of the experiment for much of the day in the lab, the work done with sand cats was minimized and reduced to the presence of somatic cells. All other work was done with domestic cats. For scientists at ACRES, interspecies nuclear transfer and interspecies gestation were the only ways to develop a research program in cloning endangered animals.1
Seeing cloning in action allowed me to understand the meaning and significance of cloned endangered animals in new ways. On the surface, the cloned gaur and African wildcats were created as models of interspecies nuclear transfer. These animals were meant to prove that it is possible to combine an enucleated egg cell from a domestic animal with the somatic cell of an endangered animal in order to create an embryo. Both ACRES and Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) wanted to make animals that would demonstrate and validate the technique. However, (p.52) these laboratories also wanted to demonstrate that they themselves had the ability to do interspecies nuclear transfer, to articulate cloning as part of their everyday practices. In other words, these animals not only embodied the validity of a technology; they also embodied the technical skill of the laboratory from which they came.2 The description of cloning practices above demonstrates this in the more microlevel practices of the ACRES lab. But this can also be seen in the mesolevel, organizational processes involved in deciding to clone the gaur, African wildcats, and sand cat to which I turn now. In each instance, the kind of animal produced through cloning reflects the focus on technology development.
Cloning a Gaur
Just two months after the birth of Dolly the Sheep, Oliver Ryder and Kurt Benirschke published a commentary in the journal Zoo Biology (1997). In it, they discussed the ways in which cloning could be used with existing technologies in order to do conservation in new ways. Specifically, they argued that cryopreserved somatic cells, which they had been collecting from zoo animals since the 1960s as part of their Frozen Zoo™, could be reinterpreted as protoindividuals in conservation efforts.3 This, Ryder and Benirschke speculated, would mean that fewer living animals would be required for species preservation programs, which would free up limited space on an ever-shrinking planet. Cloning and cryopreservation could be used to preserve more species using less space, thereby addressing two key constraints in endangered species preservation efforts. But before cloning could transform species preservation in this way, the technique had to be developed and proven with endangered animals.
Meanwhile, individuals working at ACT were also becoming interested in using somatic cell nuclear transfer with endangered animals. During the late 1990s, ACT shifted its identity from a company that produces transgenic animals for pharmaceutical production to a company that creates biomedical therapeutics using human embryonic stem cells. In forming this identity, ACT found itself in the middle of politically and ethically charged debates regarding the moral status of human embryos. In response, ACT wanted to find out if embryos (p.53) could be created using an egg cell donor of a different species than the somatic cell donor. Specifically, the company wanted to know if domestic cow eggs—plentiful in slaughterhouses—could be used with human somatic cells to conduct human embryonic stem cell research, and possibly create therapeutics.4
Scientists at ACT thought that this research trajectory could best be pursued with endangered animals, given that the company’s initial transgenic work involving human bodies resulted in public concern and political protest.5 Chief Scientific Officer Robert Lanza was aware that some people working at zoological parks were interested in using cloning for endangered animal reproduction. And ACT scientist Philip Damiani had a long-standing interest in using assisted reproductive technologies with endangered animals. Lanza and Damiani knew that endeavors to clone endangered animals would experience parallel difficulties to those experienced by human embryonic stem cell researchers: neither could allocate sufficient numbers of egg cells for their research.6
The first project to clone an endangered animal was born of a mutual curiosity among Kurt Benirschke of the San Diego Zoo Global and scientists at ACT in finding out whether or not it is possible to revise the somatic cell nuclear transfer process to incorporate domestic cow egg cells and endangered cow somatic cells in the cloning process. The goal was to prove that interspecies nuclear transfer is feasible, which was interconnected with both reproducing zoo animal populations in the context of less space on the planet and developing human embryonic stem cell therapies in the context of treating individual humans for various disorders. The first cloned endangered animal was thus a model of interspecies nuclear transfer.7
This cloning project was defined as a proof of principle exercise. The most easily available materials were used in order to maximize the likelihood of quick success. Scientists decided that the gaur was the best species to clone because there had been previous success doing interspecies gestation, wherein a Heifer cow gestated a gaur embryo and birthed a gaur newborn.8 Previous technical success was the primary referent used to determine which species should come into relation through the interspecies nuclear transfer process. And scientists were happy to see that some of the cloned cells had cleaved into embryos, making the project a success.
(p.54) The project was considered a technical success with the creation of interspecies embryos. But for the project to be seen as a success for zoos and in the popular press, an animal would need to result from the experiment. As a human embryonic stem cell company, ACT had the skill and resources needed to create cloned embryos. But they did not have the animals needed to gestate the embryos. In response, Lanza and Damiani contacted Trans Ova Genetics, a biotechnology company located in Iowa that uses assisted reproductive technologies to selectively breed cattle. Trans Ova Genetics had extensive experience doing embryo transfers as well as access to a sufficient number of domestic cows that could serve as gestational surrogates. The company agreed to participate, and transferred the cloned embryos to domestic cows for gestation as well as cared for the domestic cow surrogates throughout pregnancy. As previously mentioned, one cloned gaur was born on January 8, 2001. However, he died days later due to problems that were likely related to husbandry rather than cloning per se.
Cloning African Wildcats
While ACT and Kurt Benirschke were involved in a collaborative cloning project, Betsy Dresser and her colleagues at ACRES began to question whether they should develop somatic cell nuclear transfer to clone endangered wildlife. ACRES was founded in 1996 with the mission of developing assisted reproductive technologies for endangered species. Given that mission, the lab believed that developing interspecies nuclear transfer fell within its purview. However, the Audubon Nature Institute’s leadership was concerned that this research trajectory was simply too controversial. After some negotiations, it was nonetheless decided that ACRES could initiate a cloning research program.9
As a laboratory premised on developing assisted reproductive technologies with endangered animals, ACRES already had many of the elements at hand that are needed to clone. This included a research colony of both African wildcats and domestic cats, with which scientists could procure somatic cells, egg cells, and gestational surrogates. The research center had already started a small collection of cryopreserved somatic cells, sperm, and embryos in their frozen zoo, offering further somatic cell samples for the cloning endeavor. Senior scientist C. Earle Pope had (p.55) thirty years of experience doing oocyte retrievals, in vitro fertilization, and embryo transfers with felids and other species. And recently hired scientist Martha Gomez had experience micro-manipulating cells. As such, ACRES had a significant knowledge base, much of the technical skill, and many of the material resources needed to initiate a research program based on transposing somatic cell nuclear transfer to the zoo. In this context, they showed that zoos too could clone.
In order to move somatic cell nuclear transfer from domestic animals to endangered animals, Dresser brought additional people and knowhow associated with domestic animals to her zoological research laboratory. First, Dresser hired Philip Damiani from ACT to work at ACRES. Damiani’s success in cloning the first endangered animal made him a valued addition to a laboratory that was trying to bring cloning home to the zoo. Second, Dresser and her colleagues decided that Martha Gomez should return to Australia, where she had been trained to do intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) with sheep, for additional training in somatic cell nuclear transfer. ICSI is a “micro-manipulation” wherein a single sperm is inserted into an oocyte using a pipette under a microscope. Micro-manipulations are time-consuming, laborious modes of laboratory work that are quite different from more surgically based assisted reproductive technologies such as egg retrieval and embryo transfer. Given Gomez’s previous experience doing the micro-manipulations involved in ICSI, she was an ideal person to train in this new technique. Gomez spent one month in Australia, learning to do somatic cell nuclear transfer with domestic sheep in order to bring this set of techniques back to the zoo for use with wildcats.
In addition, the laboratory committed a significant amount of time and resources toward becoming a somatic cell nuclear transfer lab. This process required fine-tuning the practices of the laboratory in order to create optimal conditions under which each step of the nuclear transfer process could occur. The researchers in the lab had to learn how to work with each other, and the animals that they had on hand, in new ways in order to articulate somatic cell nuclear transfer into their work practices. Scientists and other laboratory workers at ACRES therefore repeatedly rejected the notion that there is anything like a “recipe” for cloning. They instead described their laboratory as an evolving “system” for making cloning work “in their hands.”10 The point was thus not only (p.56) to reproduce an endangered animal using cloning; the goal was to create and sustain a laboratory system able to do this kind of technoscientific work. It was this articulation work, as much as a cloned animal, that was viewed as valuable by ACRES.
ACRES began transferring somatic cell nuclear transfer into its facilities in 2000. This research trajectory initially resulted in the birth of four different litters of cloned African wildcats.11 Unrelated male and female cloned wildcats were bred, which resulted in two litters born on July 26, 2005 and August 2, 2005. While I was conducting this research, ACRES was using these African wildcats as models for reproducing endangered small felids. A sand cat was born in 2008, but unfortunately died about sixty days after birth. C. Earle Pople emailed me in 2010, saying that the laboratory was continuing to conduct cloning experiments but this was no longer the primary focus of their research.12
(p.57) Miles, the cloned African wildcat shown in Illustration 2.1, now stands as a witness to the scientific abilities of ACRES. He was the one living embodiment of technology development I encountered while conducting this research. His life proved that interspecies nuclear transfer is a viable mode of reproduction. Miles also demonstrated the ability of ACRES to use this technology to reproduce zoo animals. In the process, Miles had become an object in the Latourian (2004b) sense. His birth coalesced and unified the gathering of humans and nonhumans that took place within the cloning process, converting the social process of interspecies nuclear transfer into a fact. Miles has therefore lived to demonstrate that species boundaries can be crossed using interspecies nuclear transfer. But one consequence of this conversion is that what Miles has meant for the zoo has been underdetermined. He does not have any clear display value outside the research center, and cannot be seen by the general public. In addition, African wildcats are not managed by zoological parks in the United States, and so are not particularly valued by zoos. Indeed, ACRES struggled to find homes in other zoos for his offspring. Miles was thus “made to be born” (Franklin and Roberts 2006; Franklin 2006), but the life he was born to live has been limited.
The experiments resulting in the gaur, African wildcats, and sand cat were organized according to the logic of technology development. The primary goal was to prove that interspecies nuclear transfer works. ACT was willing to spend $200,000 to clone the gaur because the animal represented the viability of interspecies nuclear transfer, which could help facilitate human embryonic stem cell research in both scientific and political ways.13 Meanwhile, the African wildcats proved that ACRES was able to clone a zoo animal. The laboratory became a repository of technical skill, which could conceivably be called upon as needed in future species preservation efforts.
In order to learn if and how interspecies nuclear transfer is feasible, scientists in both instances used the cells and bodies of animals that were most readily available.14 Philip Damiani told me that the gaur was chosen for a cloning experiment because gaur embryos had previously been successfully gestated by domestic cows. In addition, cow eggs are readily (p.58) available due to the beef industry. Meanwhile, C. Earle Pope told me that the African wildcats were chosen because this species was available for them to work with. ACRES have a research colony of African wildcats. These animals are not considered endangered, and are not generally valuable to zoos. And this is precisely what makes these animals available to life science research, which is necessarily invasive and therefore physically risky. Across all these cloning projects, the focus was to prove interspecies nuclear transfer worked as quickly and as easily as possible. This focus directed the kind of animals that resulted from experimentation.
In using the cells most available to them, scientists were engaging in reproductive practices that were symbolically interlinked with the goal of increasing the number of animals in an endangered population. An article on the gaur cloning project described the significance of reproductive technologies to species preservation this way: “Recent advances in assisted reproductive techniques such as cryogenics of gametes/embryos, artificial insemination, and embryo transfer have allowed for new methods for the further propagation of endangered species” (emphasis added; Lanza et al. 2000: 80). This statement emphasizes the need to “propagate” new individuals in small populations, which aligns with species preservation practices that are based on what many people I spoke with referred to as demography, or an effort to increase the number of individuals within captive, endangered populations.
It is important to point out, however, that these animals also embody different ways of doing technology development in the zoological park. The gaur was created through collaboration between a zoo and two biotechnology companies. As a human embryonic stem cell company, ACT had particular scientific and financial interests in the project, and therefore financed the research. Specifically, ACT wanted to prove the principle of interspecies nuclear transfer so that they might be able to use cow eggs, instead of human eggs, to create embryos for stem cell derivation. When conducted with humans, this experimental and controversial research was a public relations disaster. But “endangered species” tend to bring substantial support for controversial biomedical technologies, and cloning endangered animals was no different.
A scientist who worked on the gaur cloning project at ACT described the public relations benefits of cloning endangered animals to me in this way:
(p.59) The endangered species came as an aside. We looked at it as a means to changing the perception people have of the cloning technology. At that time when all this work was being done, Dolly was already born but there still wasn’t a general acceptance of the cloning technology. But it was really unusual when we started to work with endangered species that the perception of the technology changed completely. So it was acceptable to use this, you know, God-fearing technology for saving endangered species. But it wasn’t acceptable to clone animals that we would potentially eat, or that would get into the food chain.… So we kind of decided to do the endangered species project to test the technology, but also to use it for PR purposes, to kind of sway people’s opinion of the technology.
God-fearing is normally used to denote a particularly religious person. In this context, it is somewhat strange to refer to cloning as “God-fearing,” not only because the word does not normally describe a technique but also because this technique has been so deeply contested in religious terms. In this context, I think that the scientist is trying to elicit religious, or “God-fearing,” people’s opposition to cloning within this statement. At the time, this opposition was linked with the evangelical, Christian right. Their idea of embryos as equivalent to fully formed persons was the basis for then U.S. president George W. Bush outlawing the creation of new embryos for human embryonic stem cell research. ACT’s endangered animal cloning project was meant to rupture this opposition. The gaur represented ACT’s attempt to change people’s mind about cloning, to show that it could be used for good things like preserving endangered animals. Cloning could be accepted by God-fearing people.
While ACT was interested in proving the principle of interspecies nuclear transfer in a manner that would promote the company’s public image, the zoo was able to exchange cryopreserved fibroblast cells for a living, breathing animal of an endangered species. The general idea was that if cloned animals are going to be produced as proofs of a concept, they might as well serve multiple purposes over the course of their lives. In this context, a university scientist commented that the collaboration embodied by the gaur could become a standard avenue through which zoos produce animals into the future. During an interview he remarked: (p.60) “It’ll be interesting to see how many of the other private companies feel like they can get some public relations benefit out of contributing to endangered species efforts” (March 14, 2006). However, as we shall see, this project raised questions about who gets to decide what kind of animal the zoo gets out of these purportedly mutually beneficial projects.15
Meanwhile, the African wildcat and sand cat cloning projects brought technology development into the zoo itself. This meant that the zoo had to finance this research endeavor as opposed to relying upon biotechnology companies who might want positive public relations. However, this also meant that the zoo—rather than the biotechnology company—acquired the embodied knowledge required to do cloning. I asked C. Earle Pope if he envisioned this system as providing a service function for zoos into the future. He replied that this was his dream. However, he continued to state that the focus for now had to be on learning to do these techniques, and so experimentation had to use zoo animals and zoo animal bodily parts that were most readily available. Cloning was articulated here in order to give zoos the technical knowhow required to make endangered animals when needed by zoos in the future, so that zoos would not be limited by the whims of biotechnology companies.
In turn, the zoo presumably benefited from the publicity which has routinely resulted when another animal species is cloned for the first time. Most zoo scientists I spoke with firmly believed that mass-mediated publicity of technoscientific breakthroughs in the zoo generate new forms of capital for the zoological park. Indeed, private donations were a key source of funding for ACRES at this time.16
Situating Technology Development in the Park
The focus on technology development—embodied by the cloned gaur, African wildcats, and sand cat—is consistent with the original formulation of the reproductive sciences within U.S. zoos. When I asked how the reproductive sciences were incorporated into zoological parks in the United States, many people I spoke with began their narratives in the late 1970s and early 1980s, shortly after Louise Brown was born by way of in vitro fertilization (IVF). At this time, three young reproductive physiologists joined different zoological parks across the United (p.61) States. David Wildt, a physiologist with a background with agricultural and companion animals, joined the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. Reproductive physiologist Barbara Durrant went with the San Diego Zoo. And Betsy Dresser, a physician, joined the Cincinnati Zoo. These scientists were reportedly excited by the possibility of reproducing endangered and other zoo animals using assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs). Wildt summarized this early enthusiasm as follows:
We were all very young and idealistic. And I remember that we all sort of felt that there would be a quick fix. There was the birth of Louise Brown.… So everybody in the late 1970s, early ‘80s sort of thought at the same time, “Well, how can we use these high tech approaches to enhance offspring production [of wild and endangered species]?”
Interview (July 18, 2006)
Many zoo scientists initially had high expectations of the reproductive technologies, which were viewed as a “magic bullet” to a new set of problems posed by rapidly rising extinction rates. At this time, the danger of many wild species going extinct had been formally recognized with the ratification of the Endangered Species Act (1973) in the United States as well as the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (1973) internationally. In this context, breeding increasingly became a means for zoos to sustain themselves while also assisting in species preservation. Scientists thought that technologies used to reproduce both agricultural animals and humans could be used to reproduce zoo animals within this context. The focus was on propagating wild animals for the zoo in order to increase the number of individuals in the population, in a zoo management program based in demography.
However, many wild animals are rather reticent about breeding in captivity.17 In this context, scientists thought that assisted reproductive technologies could be used to transfer reproductive labor from zoo animal bodies to the laboratory. It was hoped that by having humans rather than the animals do the reproductive work, difficulties associated with captive breeding could be circumvented. But even if embryos could be created in the laboratory, gestational surrogates were still required for those embryos to become animals. Shulasmith Firestone’s (1970) (in) (p.62) famous dream of a reproductive apparatus fully removed from the body has not yet been realized in humans or animals.
In this context much of the early research done by U.S. reproductive scientists working in zoological parks was focused on determining whether domestic animals could serve as gestational surrogates for the zoo animal embryos that humans were creating in the lab. Wildt stated that reproductive scientists basically wanted to know if “you could put zebra embryos into horses and bongo embryos into cows” (Interview, July 18, 2006). Some of the original research in this area was successful and offspring were born through interspecies embryo transfer, the gaur being one example of this.18 And the successful use of interspecies nuclear transfer received quite a lot of press. This is not surprising, given the ways in which science reporting consistently tells stories about technologies that could serve as “magic bullets” to pressing problems (Nelkin 1995). In response, Wildt found that U.S. zoos became more and more receptive to reproductive technology development in the 1980s. And this historical interpretation was reiterated in my interview with Barbara Durrant.
The incorporation of the reproductive sciences into U.S. zoological parks thus occurred considerably later when compared to academic biology, medicine, and agriculture. Adele Clarke (1998) has shown how these professions came together in disciplining the reproductive sciences in the United States, largely during the interwar years. Initially, the reproductive sciences focused on the structures and functions of reproductive organs. Clarke (1995) has defined this as “modern reproduction,” wherein the focus is on understanding so as to control. She distinguishes this from “postmodern reproduction,” which developed somewhat later and focuses on transforming reproductive processes. Assisted reproductive technologies are a central endeavor here. Clarke points out that modern and postmodern reproduction are neither discrete nor temporally linear, but rather deeply interrelated and often operate in tandem.
Zoological park scientists sought to get on the “bandwagon” (Fujimura 1992) of postmodern reproduction in order to transform the reproduction of zoo animals. It was generally assumed that the species intensively studied during modern reproductive science would be adequate models for zoo species. Reproductive scientists also thought (p.63) that assisted reproductive technologies used with humans and domestic animals could be applied to other species rather easily. In other words, many reproductive scientists working with zoo animals hoped to bypass modern reproductive research on zoo animals and jump right into postmodern reproductive transformations.
Cloning endangered animals has thus been symbolically linked with the early development of reproductive sciences within U.S. zoos, which was focused on developing technology as a means to fix the twin problems of species extinction and wild animal collecting. In other words, these cloning projects are a site of technological optimism. Paul Wapner (2010: 86) has noted that technological optimism is generally used to dispute environmentalists’ claims. Species extinction and global warming are not considered problems per se by these critics, but rather sites where human ingenuity and technological development are required. However, the development of assisted reproductive technologies in zoos shows how technological optimism has operated within species preservation itself. The scientists involved in cloning the gaur, African wildcats, and sand cat assumed that species extinction is a problem. But they have also believed that technology is (at least part of) the solution.
Reenvisioning the Zoological Spectacle
Science has long been a crucial component in the identity of zoological parks. In the past, the scientific identity of parks was rooted in using observation as part of natural history and ethology.19 The cage worked to symbolically connect this scientific identity with the educational and entertainment aspirations of zoos. In this context, it is worthwhile to ask how technology development is interlinked with the educational and entertainment aspirations of contemporary zoological parks.
Seeing wild animals is a spectacular experience, or at least it is supposed to be.20 Indeed, being able to witness wild animals, which one would otherwise never have the chance to see, has long brought people—and animals—to zoos. However, sensibilities regarding watching wildlife have been changing with the advent of film, and even more so with television.21 The camera has become a new way to “hunt for” and “capture” wildlife, creating new ways for people to see wild animals, their habitats, and their social practices.22 Viewing animals through film (p.64) remains one of the most prominent modes of visualizing wildlife today, evidenced by the popularity of nature series like Planet Earth (Fothergill 2006) and more recently Life (Gunton 2009).
In this context it needs to be emphasized that cloned animals are not displayed as spectacles within the park. The cloned African wildcats are not publicly displayed at the New Orleans Zoo, but are instead housed as part of the research colony at ACRES. This means that the cloned cats are not available to the public, but are instead kept private in conjunction with the scientific practices of the zoo. Meanwhile, the cloned gaur’s next of kin—the cloned banteng—is publicly displayed at the San Diego Zoo. However, the display practices work to minimize—as opposed to publicize—the fact that this animal is a clone. This was made abundantly clear to me during my first visit to the San Diego Zoo.
My partner Stephanie and I went to the San Diego Zoo during the summer of 2005 in order to see the cloned banteng. We began our visit with a bus tour of the park. I was interested in knowing what this zoo, as an institution involved in the public understanding of science, had to say about the topic of cloning in publicly presenting their cloned animal. The thirty-minute bus ride emphasized many of the animals in their collection that are often thought of in conjunction with the zoo. The polar bear, giraffes, zebras, and elephants were all discussed, and many pictures were taken. But to my surprise there was not a single word about the world’s first cloned animal to be displayed in a zoo.
A bit disappointed, Stephanie and I alighted the bus. Map in hand, we continued on, making our way to the hoofstock section in order to find the cloned banteng ourselves. We carefully checked each display so as to not miss it, but eventually reached what we presumed was the end of the hoofstock section. Frustrated and rather hungry, we walked slowly on, speculating that the cloned banteng’s enclosure must be one of the displays under renovation. We were discussing when we could return to the zoo, when Stephanie said that she saw what appeared to be another hoofstock display ahead. Hopeful, we walked quickly on.
Upon reaching the display, I was certain that the three animals in the enclosure had to be banteng. Based on pictures I had seen, I knew that one of the animals was the clone. Nonetheless, we began to look for the placard to verify that one of the cows in the display was indeed the product of interspecies nuclear transfer. Displays in zoos are normally (p.65) clearly marked, but we struggled to find any description of the animals in this enclosure. Pushing some foliage aside, Stephanie at last found it. She called out that this was in fact the cloned banteng’s enclosure. At long last we had found the animal that had brought us to the zoo, whose display disconfirmed almost all of my preconceptions regarding cloning in the zoological park.
The next day, during my visit to the zoo’s research center, Oliver Ryder asked if I had seen the cloned banteng. I told him that I had, but that it was actually rather difficult to find him, as the placard was covered up by the foliage surrounding the enclosure. Ryder replied that the zoo had been very concerned about creating controversy in the park. Specifically, the mass media could have articulated the meaning of this cloned animal in negative ways. So the zoo decided to downplay the cloned animal. He said that I probably had more respect for that cloned banteng than any other zoo-goer to date.
Confirming my interpretation of the previous day’s events, it was clear that the spectacle of cloning endangered animals does not operate through the medium of display within zoological parks. What we see is, after all, just a cow.23 For the cloned animal to be a spectacle, we would need to see how it was produced. Sarah Franklin (in Franklin, Lury, and Stacey 2000) points out in her analysis of the film Jurassic Park that the spectacle of bringing an extinct dinosaur back to life through bioscience was displayed through its digital reproduction in the form of a movie. A film within the film accounted for how the dinosaurs were brought back from extinction through biotechnological means, which was necessary for these animals to be spectacular to both the fictional park goer within the film and to the real movie goer. With this analysis, Franklin emphasizes that biotechnologies require multiple media to be spectacular. The products of bioscience and biomedicine rarely garner fascination on their own.
Indeed, the spectacle of cloned endangered animals has to date been mediated largely in print, through the popular press, as opposed to display. When scientists involved in zoos clone an animal, the question is not so much how to display the animal in the zoological park. Rather, the question is how to communicate the birth through the popular press. And the goal of these mass mediated accounts of zoological technoscience do not appear to be solely, or even primarily, based on (p.66) bringing people to the zoo. Rather, media spectacles regarding the technoscientific making of zoo animals is meant to bring in funding for the zoo, generating a new source of capital for zoological parks to pursue their scientific identity. The zoo scientists I spoke with regularly commented that people are interested in technology. Some of these people may not be members of their local zoo, but they may want to support the use of biotechnologies for species preservation. This kind of technologically based funding represented an additional revenue source for zoos, one that many people pointed out would not necessarily go to other areas of species preservation. In other words, technology can be a means of generating some people’s interest in endangered species, zoos, and conservation. Indeed, Adrian Franklin (2002: 14) has noted that the modernist discourse of “mastering” and “controlling” nature has long generated interest in nature itself.
A number of scholars have shown that “hype” has been a crucial means for garnering funding for biotechnology companies.24 Mass-mediated hype brings new stockholders to corporations, creating the capital needed to develop new techniques. Cloning endangered animals has been a way for biotechnology companies to get good press, which could bring in new capital through stockholders. In a similar way, the mass-mediated hype surrounding the creation of technoscientific endangered animals can bring new kinds of capital into zoos from private donors. Private benefactors have been central to companion animal cloning projects.25 Why shouldn’t private donors also be instrumental in the development of life science research in zoos? Indeed, one of the scientists at ACRES told me that private donors were among their primary revenue sources.26
I stated in chapter 1 that chimeras connect nature and culture in distinct ways, which has consequences for the material semiotics of wild life. In the context of technology development, heteroplasmic bodies containing DNA from two different species are brought together in the nuclear transfer process according to scientific priorities. The most available bodily parts are combined to create cells and animals that prove the principle of interspecies nuclear transfer and its applicability to the physiologies of endangered species. The cloned animal is thereby born of a (p.67) technoscientific ethos. Its life demonstrates the scientific identity of the zoological park. Indeed, such a heteroplasmic animal could not have been made in any other way; it would not exist outside the laboratory. One of the benefits of making endangered animals through technologies like cloning is that such endeavors can bring new kinds of people to the zoo. Those interested in technology may become concerned with zoos, endangered species, and preservation through the spectacle of the cloned endangered animal. Technology can engender an interest in nature.
What are the aesthetics of a cloned endangered animal in the context of technology development? In articulating the aesthetics of American environmentalism, Paul Wapner (2010) has differentiated the sublime experience of being in nature from the sublime experience of seeing art. Wapner (2010: 69, 75) describes the idealized aesthetic of environmentalists in this way:
Many care [about the environment] simply because they enjoy the experience of visiting or immersing themselves in nature. Nature is beautiful to many people. Natural places, exotic species, dramatic landscapes, unique ecosystems, and various soundscapes provide many with a strong sense of pleasure and well-being. This aesthetic dimension involves the enjoyment, love and what some may call the soulful enrichment many people experience in nature.… An artificial world just doesn’t sit right with many environmentalists.
Wapner contrasts this with the aesthetic experience of those who are more interested in human activity and ingenuity, which he contends is exemplified by the sublime experience of witnessing art. Wapner (2010: 100) describes this aesthetic experience as follows:
We often associate aesthetics with art. While beauty involves color, light, tone, and so on, and consists in qualities like symmetry and proportion, it is the way the artist arranges, constructs, or presents these elements that makes them beautiful. Art is, after all, a human enterprise. People envision and express themselves through art; art cannot simply be found.… This sense of made as opposed to found is key to the aesthetic judgment of many and hints at the difference between how environmentalists versus their critics orient themselves toward aesthetic pleasure.
(p.68) Wapner argues that these two different aesthetic experiences are linked with two different ways of valuing nature, the former associated with its protectors and the latter with its detractors. Wapner contends that both these aesthetic experiences are linked with a dream rooted in foundations, the former grounded in nature and the later grounded in human culture.
In delineating these two modes through which the sublime is experienced, Wapner uses “the made” versus “the found” as a key site of differentiation. And this difference helps to explain how cloned endangered animals garner their aesthetic value through technology development, wherein human skill and the made is prioritized over an encounter. Cloned endangered animals gain aesthetic value by having been made; they are spectacles of human ingenuity. These animals are technologically created, rather than having arisen through evolution. It is the art of assisted reproduction that makes these animals interesting. Their hybrid DNA represents a kind of signature, showing that the animal was created through human intervention.
But what does making animals have to do with zoos and species preservation? Why do people want to develop these technologies with endangered species specifically? Interestingly, four of the technology developers I spoke with struggled to articulate why exactly they thought species preservation was important when questioned. But for those who could articulate why it was important, the visual experience of seeing animals that look different tended to be emphasized. For example, one zoo scientist replied: “So all these animals are going to die out. Big deal, right? But I think our grandchildren will be very unhappy if they can only see giraffes in pictures” (Interview January 8, 2006). This scientist articulated a belief that it is our responsibility to develop and use technologies so that species like giraffes can be seen and appreciated by future generations of people. In this context, changing the mitochondrial DNA of endangered animals is a possibly imperfect, but nonetheless understandable, route to follow if one wants to keep a variety of different kinds of animals on the planet, so that the sublime experience of encountering other species will be experienced by future generations.
For those centrally interested in zoos and endangered species preservation, however, such a technological approach can be unwelcome. (p.69) Technology has long been critiqued in environmental movements, particularly within the United States (Wapner 2010) but also in transnational species preservation efforts (Benson 2010: 97). This skepticism has been rooted in the belief that technologies have created so many environmental problems. In other words, technologies are responsible for “the end of nature” (McKibben  2003). Given that technologies are deemed the source of problems like global warming, many environmentalists have argued against technological solutions. This tension helps explains why cloned endangered animals are simultaneously hyped in the popular press and downplayed in the display practices of zoological parks. We tend to think of “natural kinds” (Hacking 1999) as the most real kind. An endangered animal made through biotechnology, who could only come into being through laboratory practices, may not be viewed as authentic by at least some regular visitors of zoos. Clones may not be considered acceptable replacements in reproducing the aesthetics of nature.
The dilemmas of making nature show that humans and animals are embroiled with one another in articulating cloning. Endangered species as a kind of human-animal relationship is being delineated, wherein humans must decide to use or not use available technologies to ensure other species persist into the future for human pleasure.
But in addition, humans are also being jointly worked upon through this articulation of cloning. Both humans and endangered animals are figured as in need of biological reworking, in the varying contexts of global warming, declining habitats, medical disorders, and diseases. The motifs of regeneration, through which “improvements” and “enhancements” are made, shape research that is meant to have applications for both human and nonhuman animals. Regenerative medicine and regenerative conservation have developed together, simultaneously, in the material cultures of the lab, as the bodies and bodily parts of domestic, endangered, and human animals are interchanged and transposed. The human is constituted both in pursuing certain kinds of relations with wild life and nature, but also in pursuing certain kinds of biotechnical apparatuses that can be used to regenerate human bodily parts. The next chapter looks at these transpositions with more depth, asking how technology development has enabled dual imaginaries regarding the enhancement of human and endangered animals alike. (p.70)
(1.) The scientists I spoke with at this lab took the position that interspecies nuclear transfer is a necessary route, and the problems associated with creating heteroplasmic individuals were minimal compared to species extinction.
(3.) The San Diego Zoo Global’s research center CRES has trademarked the brand Frozen Zoo, which has since become a shorthand for these kinds of collections. When I refer to CRES’s collection, I use the trademark symbol. When I refer to the more general practice, I do not.
(4.) The idea here was that human somatic cells could be transferred into cow eggs in order to make an embryo that was not “human,” but from which “human” stem cells could nonetheless be derived. The company could thus work around religious opposition to human embryonic stem cell research, on the basis that “human” embryos were not being destroyed. In addition, the company would not have to collect human eggs from women’s bodies. This allowed them to work around feminist opposition to human embryonic stem cell research, not to mention a serious technical challenge. See also Franklin (2003a) on these kinds of biotechnical work arounds to ethical dilemmas on the part of biotechnology companies.
(5.) Interview, Mike West (July 18, 2006); interview, Philip Damiani (July 1, 2005).
(6.) Nuclear transfer remains inefficient in terms of the material resources that are required to produce a limited number of embryos and offspring. The process requires both a large number of egg cells for the nuclear transfer procedure and a significant number of gestational surrogates for the development of resulting embryos. Despite these material investments, relatively few animals are actually birthed. As seen in my description of the cloning experiments at ACRES, approximately 120 egg cells were used in one day of research. These retrievals were done two times per week for several years. Given the endangered status of endangered species, it is materially impossible and is generally thought unethical to use endangered animal egg cells in the highly experimental processes of somatic cell nuclear transfer.
(9.) Interview, C. Earle Pope (April 14, 2006).
(10.) It is not unusual to see diagrams of the cloning process that delineate the cells brought together to produce a cloned animal. This mode of representation is common in the life sciences, and presents the technical process of somatic cell nuclear transfer as a kind of “recipe” (Lynch and Jordan 2000). Good biologists have long been seen as having “golden hands,” which are able to make these recipes work in practice. Building upon this language, the scientist from ACRES emphasized in our discussions that this laboratory did not simply follow a (p.205) cloning recipe. Rather, the recipe needed to be built upon and tweaked so that it would work in their hands.
(14.) Adele Clarke (1987) has shown that the availability of research materials was a primary factor in shaping the direction and pace of the reproductive sciences. In the case of cloning endangered animals as part of technology development, the availability, familiarity, and likelihood of producing a living offspring were similarly the primary criteria for determining which animal should be cloned.
(16.) I was conducting this research during and after Hurricane Katrina. Scientists at ACRES told me that they wouldn’t be able to rely upon state funding and private donations to support their research to the same extent post-Katrina. In this context, these scientists were turning to medical funding.
(17.) Captive breeding is a key feature of domestication itself and many species resist the kind of control that this process entails (Franklin 2007b: 88). Getting zoo animals to breed in captivity, and of their own accord, is a serious challenge. As such, many zoos repeatedly bred zoo animals who were willing, a problematic practice that will be further discussed in chapters 4 and 5.
(23.) I would like to thank Stefan Timmermans for this point. He and his son looked the banteng up on YouTube one night during my postdoctoral fellowship. Timmermans reported back that his son’s response was that the banteng was “just a cow.”
(25.) Wealthy benefactors have provided initial funding for companion animal cloning projects. See Klotzko (2001: 171) for a discussion of this in the context of the dog cloning, Missyplicity project.
(26.) The publicly available financial statement for the Audubon Nature Institute supports this, which states that the Audubon Nature Institute and Audubon Nature Institute Foundation raised $295,121 for the year ending December 31, 2007 in grants; meanwhile, they raised $4,607,840 in gifts and exhibit sponsorship. The report also states that ACRES, and the survival center within which it is located, (p.206) raised $1,411,201 in 2007 and $2,227,444 in 2006. While I cannot say how much money was raised through cloning endangered animals, it was clear that this and other organizations use spectacles outside of the park in order to garner private donations.