David Edwin Wildt developed and applied assisted reproductive technologies to conserve rare and endangered wildlife species in the US during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. He advocated genome resource banks to help preserve biodiversity, and he advocated for practical ethics to guide wildlife reproductive biologists when they use technology and environmental planning. Wildt often focused on the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), but he researched greater than fifty vertebrate species. In the early decades of the twenty-first century, he directed the Smithsonian's Conservation Biology Institute Center for Species Survival in Front Royal, Virginia. He researched reproductive biology and population genetics, used assisted reproduction technologies (ART) for wildlife species, and showed researchers how to utilize noninvasive techniques to monitor the hormones in organisms and their reproductive behaviors.
Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), a stem cell biotechnology company in Worcester, Massachusetts, showed the potential for cloning to contribute to conservation efforts. In 2000 ACT researchers in the United States cloned a gaur (Bos gaurus), an Asian ox with a then declining wild population. The researchers used cryopreserved gaur skin cells combined with an embryo of a domestic cow (Bos taurus). A domestic cow also served as the surrogate for the developing gaur clone. The successful procedure opened the opportunity to clone individuals from species for which there are few or zero live specimens. The official release of this experiment's data was published in the paper 'Cloning of an Endangered Species (Bos gaurus) Using Interspecies Nuclear Transfer,' in October 2000. In the article, the researchers presented data collected from several cloned fetuses that were aborted before the full term of 283 days. At the time of publication, the gaur bull fetus, named Noah at birth, had developed for greater than 180 days. Noah was born on 8 January 2001, but died two days later due to dysentery. The development, birth, and death of Noah became a platform for conservationists and ethicists to critique the role of cloning in society and as a method to conserve species.
David Wildt is an animal reproductive biologist who directs the Conservation Biology Institute in Fort Royal, Virginia. In 1986, Wildt argued that artificial reproductive technologies should only be used for species conservation efforts if standard techniques to aid natural reproduction are not effective. Between 1986 and 2001, Wildt revised his views and values primarily in relation to two things: which methods captive breeding programs ought to use, and how reproductive scientists ought to contribute to the larger work of conservation. His arguments became institutionalized in varying species conservation organizations such as the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington, DC, the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Captive Breeding Specialist Group, and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, headquartered in Washington, DC.
David Wildt's cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) research from 1978-1983 became the foundation for the use of embryological techniques in endangered species breeding programs. The cheetah is a member of the cat family (Felidae), which includes thirty-seven species. According to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) all Felidae species are currently threatened or endangered, with the exception of the domestic cat (Felinus catus). Cheetahs are an internationally recognized charismatic megafauna species, prized zoo specimens, difficult to breed, and the basis of many conservation campaigns. Like most species, cheetahs have not traditionally been studied; only a few "model" organisms have been thoroughly researched in a laboratory setting. This research revealed that the difficulty observed in breeding cheetahs in captivity is due to their lack of genetic diversity.