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American scientists have pulled off a breeding first by producing two litters of African wildcat kittens from cloned parents. Although the species is not at risk, the Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species team reckons the technique could one day save other animals from extinction.

Eight kittens from two litters was the final tally, the BBC reports. Two females - Madge and Caty, both cloned from another female - gave birth to five and three kittens respectively. The proud father in both cases was Ditteaux, himself a clone.

The happy events come at the end of several years' work with the African wildcats. The Center first brewed up some kittens via in vitro fertilisation in 1999, and produced clones in 2003.

Audubon Center lead boffin, Dr Betsy Dresser, explained: "By improving the cloning process and then encouraging cloned animals to breed and make babies, we can revive the genes of individuals who might not be reproductively viable otherwise, and we can save genes from animals in the wild."

But while the technique holds some future hope for threatened species, the WWF's Species Programme director, Dr Susan Lieberman, cautioned: "While cloning is an intriguing scientific breakthrough that may enhance captive breeding in the years to come, it currently has no value for conservating endangered species in the wild. Cloning does nothing to reduce the most pressing threats to endangered species and their habitats; conservation requires work on entire populations and their habitats." ®

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