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Rare New Zealand pigs to be killed for their semen

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Kill a rare animal to help preserve it? That’s the plan in New Zealand, where a team of hunters will soon go out to collect a few critically endangered Arapawa Island boars, a breed that only exists on that tiny island. Their plan is to kill two pigs, then extract their semen for later research.

The Arapawa Island pig breed was introduced to the island in the 19th century by visiting whalers and exists nowhere else in the world. It almost went extinct in the 1990s, but four healthy piglets were captured from the wild and formed the core of a small mainland breeding program. Now, with other pig breeds also being introduced to the island, the Arapawa breed faces competition that could eliminate its precariously tiny gene pool.

Michael Willis, head of the Christchurch-based Rare Breeds Conservation Society‘s expedition to capture the pigs, told Wellington’s The Press that semen has never been extracted from dead pigs, and if it’s successful, it could lead to methods of preserving other rare breeds.

Why are the Arapawa Island boars’ genes important? They might not be, but scientists point to another rare breed, the Auckland Island pig, whose cells are being used in a trial to cure diabetes. If the Arapawa breed goes extinct, we’ll never know if their genes have some value, medical or otherwise.

Here’s another question: Why do the pigs have to be killed to extract their semen? Ten seconds of Internet searching shows that there seem to be plenty of techniques out there for extracting boar semen without killing the animals. (I’ll admit, the phrase "pig semen extraction" is one I never thought I would google.)

The expedition, which will launch October 25, also aims to collect a few sows (females) to add to the breeding group on mainland New Zealand.

Arapawa Island is also home to a rare breed of milk goat, another introduced species, which is now extinct in its native England.

Photo: Arapawa Pig via the Rare Breeds Conservation Society of New Zealand

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  1. 1. candide 1:09 pm 10/20/2010

    Doesn’t killing them seem counter-productive and extreme?

    Just tranquilize them (not to unconsciousness) and have someone "manually extract" the semen.

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  2. 2. Plaisham 6:54 pm 10/20/2010

    Avery valid question…Has the Society explained anywhere why they have to KILL them?? I went to their page but didn’t get any answers.

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  3. 3. scientific earthling 7:35 pm 10/20/2010

    No that would be a sensible thing to do.
    Somebody likes the taste of what’s left after the semen is extracted. Its the killer instinct that makes what you kill taste better.

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  4. 4. m.hadfield 11:10 pm 10/20/2010

    They have to be removed from Arapawa Island because they’re an introduced pest endangering native flora and fauna. The Rare Breeds Conservation society doesn’t have room for them in its breeding program, they can’t be left where they are or released anywhere else in New Zealand, presumably no-one else has volunteered to take them, so…

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  5. 5. scientific earthling 11:48 pm 11/4/2010

    Good reason to remove them from the island, but if they themselves are endangered, why not return them to the lands they came from?

    No don’t ask! Here these are yours, and they are endangered.

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