Chinese Looking To Clone Pandas

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They are soft, furry and all but extinct. Today there are only about a thousand pandas left in the world, reports CBS News Correspondent Barry Petersen.. A few dozen are in zoos.

Blame man for encroaching on once wild parts of China and destroying their habitat. And, as more of China's wilderness disappears, so do more of the pandas.

Add to that, male pandas have a notoriously low interest in mating. The Chinese badly need a solution. So they bypassed the natural way of reproduction, and went for artificial insemination.

And produced babies who get 24 hour-a-day attention. They are destined for a lifetime amid the trees and bamboo.

"Our goal," said Wei Rong Ping, the director of the panda research center, "is to release them into the natural environment, training them to someday live in the wild."

But it's not working well enough, or fast enough; so the Chinese are taking what they hope will be a radical great leap forward for panda survival -- cloning.

Scientists have implanted a cloned panda into the womb of a cat, but the cat soon died. Other experiments are going on in a process so controversial - that nervous officials wouldn't allow Peterson to film them.

The world's first clone - "Dolly the sheep" - raised angry voices about science going too far. Now, some opponents in China are raising the same objections. They're urging more attention to saving forests, rather than cloning panda genes.

But the Chinese government is acting out of desperation, hoping 21st century science can save gentle creatures that have roamed our world for three million years.