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[SRINAGAR] The successful cloning of the unique but dwindling 'pashmina' goat, prized for its fine wool, has encouraged veterinary scientists to use similar methods to conserve other endangered animal species native to Himalayan Kashmir. 

When a team of veterinary scientists from the centre for animal biotechnology at the Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agriculture Science and Technology (SKUAST), Srinagar, cloned the pashmina goat, last month (March), it revived hopes for saving a species whose numbers have been declining.

The breakthrough is expected to benefit the US$ 85 million shawl industry that depends on the availability of the exceptionally fine wool produced by the rare animal.

"The expertise developed in cloning the pashmina goat has paved the way for undertaking in-vitro fertilization and assisted reproduction techniques in other endangered species, particularly the antlered red deer (Cervus elaphus hanglu), commonly known as the hangul," Khursheed Ahmad, wildlife management scientist at SKUAST, told SciDev.Net.

"This is a major breakthrough for us," said Riaz Ahmad Shah, associate professor at SKUAST and head of the World Bank-funded project. "The birth of Noori (the pashmina goat clone) marks the future of research in transgenic animal production, stem cell research and selective multiplication of endangered animal species," he said.

According to Shah, cloned goats will "produce more pashmina wool compared to the naturally-existing goat."

SKUAST already collaborates with the Laboratory for Conservation of Endangered Species (LaCONES) of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad and the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, to conserve the hangul, musk deer (Moschus moschiferus), Tibetan antelope or chiru (Pantholops hodgsonii), markhor goat (Capra falconeri) as well as endangered birds such as vultures and migratory waterfowl.

"Presently, we are tracking the Hangul movement patterns using satellite telemetry and also assist the wildlife department in conservation, breeding and reintroduction programme of the hangul, a critically endangered species," Ahmad said

"We have also undertaken the challenging task of conservation breeding of the chiru and musk deer and exploring possibilities of live-combing chiru for 'shahtoosh' fibre and extraction of musk from musk deer using non-invasive techniques," Khursheed said.

Both the chiru and the musk deer are highly significant for the region’s economy. The former produces luxury wool for the famous 'shahtoosh shawl' industry and the latter produces musk which goes into fine perfumes.