Romance Books: Shapeshifters & Threatened Species
As a romance author whose fantasy paranormal romance series is inspired by the wildly wonderful natural world of the rainforest, and the closer to home streets of Chester, I was both impressed and dismayed by an article I read on the BBC website this morning about work presently being undertaken at Chester Zoo.
Impressed because scientists are freezing samples from the threatened species they strive to conserve in biobanks; dismayed because it might be necessary for future generations to resurrect species because they become extinct.
As a frequent visitor to Chester Zoo (and because my first romance heroine was a vet there), I’m always keen to know more about the conservation work being undertaken by #chesterzoo. Dr Ana Jones, a big cat specialist in The Guardians’ Trust: Ana, believes passionately in her profession; Mags, the heroine of book seven in the romance series, is an active member of Greenpeace when she is kidnapped from Queen’s Bridge crossing the River Dee in Chester.
Ana and Mags enter a world where male and female characters can shapeshift into panthers, jaguars, eagles and hawks amongst other species. And I think both characters would share my feelings upon reading this story: It is depressing that humans are the destructive force propelling so many species to extinction, but it is also incredible that human ingenuity is creating nature’s safety net at this time of biodiversity crisis. Scientists are creating a way for future generations to resurrect extinct species and literally bring them back to life.
So far, scientists at the zoo have frozen living tissue of more than one hundred species. These samples are held in Nature’s Safe in a kind of super antifreeze that is stored at an impressive -196C. According to the BBC, this is the temperature that stops the natural chemical process within cells, effectively placing them in suspended animation. Each sample contains the genetic instructions for the animal it is taken from. Once warmed back to body temperature in a bath of nutrients (sorry I’m not very technical!), the cells return to life, multiplying and dividing – they are literally the preserved building blocks of life.
Given we are losing species at an unprecedented rate, saving as much genetic material as possible is a forward-thinking project that is desperately important:
“It’s not going to stop extinction, but it’ll certainly help.” Tullis Matson, founder of Nature’s Safe.
Chester Zoo’s jaguar, nine-year-old Goshi, died earlier this year (2022). It was this beautiful, panther that inspired the shapeshifting character of Brenin whom Ana marries upon her arrival to the Other Realm. But while Goshi's unexpected death was sad news, there was a ray of light to accompany the story. A few small pieces of Goshi’s ear were saved as a sample within Nature’s Bank. With no cubs, the specimens are a chance to preserve her genetic material and allow her, and by extension her species, to live on should the worst happen.
Of course, everyone hopes that these specimens will never be needed… But while so many species face extinction because of human actions, conservationists are working to do all they can to ensure these wonderful species aren’t lost forever.