Image: Joseph Wolf, Wikimedia Commons

The bucardo, also known as the Pyrenean ibex, was cloned after its extinction — just to die again.

The Pyrenean ibex was one of four subspecies of Spanish ibex that used to roam the Pyrenees mountains along the border of France and Spain, but were coveted by hunters for their large, curly horns. Despite conservation efforts, the last known surviving member of the species was found dead in 2000. This bucardo was a 13-year-old female named Celia — and she would be integral to the species’ resurrection.

A wildlife veterinarian named Alberto Fernández-Arias had successfully attained cell samples from her ear and flank ten months before her death and preserved them using deep-freeze cryopreservation. A cloning project was approved in the fall of 2000 and scientists were given permission to move forward using nuclear transfer cloning technology, similar to what was done with Dolly the Sheep in 1996.

While the cells were suitable for cloning, the biggest issue was the lack of a suitable mating partner for the cloned female if they succeeded. In order to bring back the species from extinction, they would need to produce viable mating pairs. The full study is published in the journal Theriogenology.

Scientists were able to transplant DNA from the tissue samples into the eggs from domestic goats, essentially making Spanish ibex and domestic goat hybrids. 57 total embryos were implanted into surrogate mothers, but only seven resulted in pregnancies. Of the seven, just one came to term and on July 30, 2003 a female bucardo kid was born — and the first animal in history was brought back from extinction.

Although the kid died within ten minutes after birth due to respiratory issues, the symbolism of the event was not lost on science. The story was finally revealed to the public in 2009, but by that point, the research team had disbanded, and for the moment it seems the bucardo will remain extinct.

The idea of de-extinction has spread across other facets of the scientific realm, and it will continue to fester in the minds of those who understand the depths of such possibility.