Darwin didn't count on sperm banks

| Wed May 3, 2000 2:00 AM EDT

The lion is king of the jungle, most noble of wild beasts, right? Well, it turns out there's been a lot of incest in the royal family lately. Researchers from Tanzania to South Africa have found that rampant inbreeding among lion prides has hurt their ability to reproduce and fight disease.

African lions are far from extinct; but, given their poor choice of mates, South Africa's Wildlife Breeding Centre wants to give natural selection a little push by introducing artificial insemination to lions, reports the SYDNEY MORNING HERALD.

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The center has filled a sperm bank with samples from both wild and captive lions that were killed in fights or shot by poachers. Scientists will perform vasectomies on certain males in the Lion Safari Park near Johannesburg, then inseminate the females with sperm from the bank, in hopes of creating a new genetic strain of kings.