This Is The Only Animal To Go Extinct Twice

Juan Seijas (left) and Alberto Fernández-Arias (right) with 'Celia', the last surviving bucardo. The animal's head is covered to protector her eyes. Ordesa and Monte Perdido National Park. Copyright of Aragón Government (Spain).

The bucardo was the first animal to be resurrected from the depths of extinction. It was also the first animal to go extinct twice.

Also known as the Pyrenean ibex, the bucardo was once a common sight in the idyllic Pyrenees mountains that border France and Spain, as well as the Basque Country, Navarre, north Aragon, and north Catalonia. Despite being figures of regional pride, their grand curly horns made them an attractive target for hunters and towards the latter half of the 20th century they were more often seen mounted on the walls of hunting cabins than they were roaming the hillsides.

Extensive breeding efforts took place throughout the 1980s but it was too little too late. By 1997, just one bucardo was left. Rangers found this remaining individual, a 13-year-old female named Celia, mangled beneath a fallen tree in a remote part of Ordesa National Park in January 2000.

The bucardo had joined the ranks of the dodo. But fortunately for this curly-horned creature, all was not lost.

An illustration of the bucardo from the book 'Wild oxen, sheep & goats of all lands, living and extinct' (1898) by Richard Lydekker. From a sketch by Joseph Wolf in the possession of Lady Brooke. Public Domain

Alberto Fernández-Arias, a wildlife veterinarian who had previously researched the reproduction of the Spanish ibex, captured this female 10 months before her death using a blowpipe, and took cell samples from her ear and flank. These cells were taken back to a lab where they were cultivated and then exposed to deep-freeze cryopreservation.

“Cloning in mammals was thought to be impossible,” Alberto told IFLScience. “Then in 1996, there was Dolly the Sheep. And that changed a lot of things.”

Using Alberto's expertise in Spanish ibex reproduction, a team of French and Spanish scientists led by Jose Folch began working with these sacred cells left by Celia. You can read the ins and outs of the scientific study in the rather obscure journal Theriogenology. After some delay, it was eventually published in 2009.

The team injected nuclei from the bucardo’s cells into goat eggs that had been emptied of their own genetic material. They then implanted these eggs into hybrids of Spanish ibex and domestic goats. They managed to implant 57 embryos. However, just seven of these hybrids became pregnant and six eventually miscarried. One, however, was a success. 

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