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1 Spain to clone fighting bull on Mon Feb 02, 2009 11:20 pm

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Spain to clone fighting bull
For more than 17 years, El Alcalde has sired some of the most celebrated fighting bulls to enter Spain's bullrings.

By Fiona Govan in Madrid
Last Updated: 2:41PM GMT 02 Feb 2009

El Alcalde has sired some of the most celebrated fighting animals to enter Spain's bullrings Photo: REUTERS
But after earning his owner a reputation as one of the nation's top breeders, the hulking black beast weighing 450 kilos is on his last legs.

Now he is to be cloned in a pioneering move that will ensure his bloodline continues long after his death.

Owner Vitoriano del Río, has turned to medical science to safeguard the winning genes of his star stud.

The breeder hired the American cloning company ViaGen to harvest cells from El Alcalde, which means the Mayor, and insert them into a cow egg stripped off its nucleus to create an embryo that will grow into an animal with the exact genetic make-up of the original.

The technique is essentially the same one used in to copy the sheep Dolly, the world's first cloned mammal.

For the last six months Mr del Río has been awaiting approval from the European Union to ship the cloned cells from a laboratory in Austin, Texas where they are being stored at 170 degrees below zero to Spain for implantation into a surrogate cow.

The European commission is now to give that approval under guidelines that allow the cloning of animals provided they are not destined for the plate. Permission has already been given for the cloning of several racehorses to be used for stud purposes.

"We will soon have good news," Mr del Río told Spanish newspaper El Pais. "The EU has asked us for guarantees that the meat of the clone will not be eaten, and we can do that."

He anticipates that the new animal will be born before the end of the year at his ranch in Guadalix de la sierra, an hour north of Madrid.

The clone will be put out to stud when it reaches the age of two and its sons should start entering bullfighting arenas by 2016.

It is hoped that like the original, the El Alcalde clone will father around 40 great fighting bulls a year bringing an excellent return on the estimated £28,000 cost of the cloning procedure.

But although the clone will have the same genes there is no guarantee that it will produce champion fighting bulls as so much depends on the individual character of the bull.

"There's no guarantee, as this is the first time it's been done," Mr del Río said of his cloning project. "When you want to advance

in science, you have to take a bet. They can only guarantee that the clone will have a 100 per cent of the original DNA, not, however, an identical fighting quality.

"For that we will have to wait and see," said the breeder, who admitted that he is driven by sentimentality for his prize bull as much as profit.

But the move, which could revolutionise the traditional world of bullfighting, will further anger those opposed to the spectacle.

Consuelo Polo, spokesman for animal rights from the Spanish group Ecologistas en Acción, said: "It's crazy to clone a bull in order to continue torturing and killing bulls in the rings. It seems barbaric."

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