While former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati's sole conservation plan for endangered species seems to have been building statues of elephants, the new chief minister of the state, Akhilesh Yadav, appears far more adventurous. According to news reports, Yadav, who has an environmental engineering degree from the University of Sydney, has been very "responsive" to an idea floated by the University of Melbourne's Rajneesh Verma, who is a reproductive biologist. Verma is keen to set up a "frozen zoo" in Uttar Pradesh, the first of its kind in India, which itself is battling with its own conservation challenges.
According to Verma, the zoo will have a cell bank which will store the cells of endangered species. However, we must warn Verma that some cells floating in a test tube will never be enough to attract government funds; the State, as the auditors at the Comptroller and Auditor General's office will tell us, needs physical proof of things bought or built. In keeping with that spirit then, the cell-zoo will have to produce a thing or two along the way. Then there is another problem: the zoo will also need female animals to carry the embryo since the new one will come after the normal gestation period. Now, Yadav may suddenly want proper value for the state's money and decide that he wants a Bornean orangutan to justify the money spent on the frozen zoo. To produce such a magnificent beast, the zoo would need a female first, which, if we know our International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List correctly, wouldn't be an easy task. Likewise, for every endangered species the zoo may want to produce, it will need at least one female of that species. Verma's idea is also not exactly brand new: the Chinese (who else?) have already started preserving somatic cells of the south China tiger — a species thought to be extinct in the wild — in order to clone them in the future.
Verma says that technology can make sure that no species can ever be extinct. While this may make the people who draw up the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species worry about their next list, we, pessimistic editorial writers, can already smell a controversy in the making.