Kashmir, Mar 16: Scientists said on Thursday that they have cloned a rare Himalayan goat in Indian-controlled Kashmir.
The project leaders are hoping their procedure with help increase the number of animals famed for their silky soft undercoats used to make pashmina wool, or cashmere.
The March 9 birth of female kid “Noori” - which means “light” in Arabic - could spark breeding programmes across the region and mass production of the high-priced wool, said lead project scientist Riaz Ahmad Shah, a veterinarian at the animal biotechnology centre of Sher-i-Kashmir University.
Cashmere wool, particularly made into shawls, is a major source of income for Kashmir, generating about 80 (m) million US dollars a year for the Indian-controlled portion of the disputed mountain state.
A shawl can cost 200 US dollars in Kashmir and much more when sold abroad - a remarkable amount given the average salary of 800 US dollars a year for Kashmir's 10.2 (m) million people.
Cashmere goats - which take their name from the Kashmir region but include a number of breeds that produce the soft wool - are traditionally herded in small numbers across the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau in cold and remote mountain areas.
They must live in harsh, windy climates to generate the soft undercoat, for which demand has always exceeded supply and experts say their numbers are dwindling.
In recent years, Kashmir has started importing cashmere from neighbouring China to keep up with orders.
Shah and six other scientists took two years to clone Noori, using the relatively new “handmade” cloning technique involving only a microscope and a steady hand.
“This is our first clone and the work is going on still to produce more clones in the future,” said Shah.
“This cloning technology and its application has got many dimensions. We will be using this cloning technology initially under this project for multiplication of elite animals.”
Noori is the first cashmere goat cloned by this method, though Shah earlier cloned a buffalo.
They plan to spread the goat-cloning knowledge across the Indian Himalayas so others can grow their own goats.
Eventually, Shah hopes to clone threatened species such as the critically endangered Kashmir stag, or hangul, the only surviving species of Asian red deer.