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‘Frozen Zoo’ Coming Out of the Closet

October 22, 1989

CINCINNATI (AP) _ The Cincinnati Zoo has kept dozens of antelopes, cows and tigers in an 8- by-8-foot storage closet for nearly nine years.

But now, one of the world’s largest collections of frozen animal embryos has outgrown its laboratory, and the zoo has begun work on a $3.4 million facility expected to open in 14 months. Groundbreaking was Saturday.

Dr. Betsy Dresser, director of the zoo’s Center for Reproduction and Endangered Wildlife, is counting on the 16,000-square-foot lab to help save animals from extinction.

″It’s a safety net,″ she said. ″Instead of feeding a herd of rhinoceroses, you can keep them frozen.″

The ″frozen zoo″ preserves species’ genetic material while conservationists try to save their habitat or find room for them in captivity.

″If we had been able to do this for the dinosaurs, we could bring them back today,″ she said.

Despite the limitations of working in the converted mop closet, she said the frozen zoo has produced 14 world firsts since the project started in 1981. One was the birth in February of a rare Indian desert cat through test-tube fertilization of a house cat.

Successes have spawned similar research programs in San Diego, Washington and London.

″Cincinnati is leading the way,″ said Thomas Foose, conservation director for the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums in Bethesda, Md. ″This type of research is crucial to the survival of a lot of species.″

Private grants and fund drives will pay for the new center, which will accommodate up to 50 scientists. Ms. Dresser said officials hope to encourage scientific as well as financial interest by offering tours to visitors.

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