pay for the construction costs. The uni-
versity’s first class is due to graduate next
year, and, for the initial round of students,
the tuition has been free.
Zewail managed to recruit Egyptian
scientists abroad to return to head most
of the research institutes, which focus on
research themes such as nanotechnology,
energy, and biomedicine. Next year, the city
is set to complete phase one of its building projects with 10 teaching and research
facilities. According to Ashraf Badawi,
Zewail City’s dean of student affairs, the
science city is still planning and fundraising for a second phase, which calls for an
additional four research buildings. Eventually, the university could grow to as many as
5000 students, Zewail said in April. But
specific plans for such a large expansion
are yet to be drafted.
Prior to his death, Zewail said that he
had already helped raise nearly $1 billion
of the project’s eventual $2 billion goal.
Much of that came through Zewail’s personal contacts with business and political
leaders both inside Egypt and abroad, as
well as direct appeals to the Egyptian public. “He knew everyone,” Badawi says, and
encouraged them all to contribute to the
project. In 2011, for example, an Egyptian
pharmaceutical executive, Hassan Abbas
Helmy, gave 250 million Egyptian pounds
($42 million) for a pharmaceutical research institute.
“We are hoping this will continue” despite Zewail’s death, Badawi says. In any
case, he says, there’s enough funding in
place for the foreseeable future. “The city
should be fine for several years.” At Zewail’s
funeral, held with full military honors on
7 August in a Cairo suburb, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi insisted the government would see the project through to
completion “one way or another,” according
to an article in The New York Times.
Others at Zewail City’s university say
they are shaken by Zewail’s passing but determined to sustain his vision. “He meant
a lot to us,” says Reem Khidr Arafa, a U.S.-trained professor of biomedical sciences at
Zewail City whom Zewail recruited from
Cairo University to join the faculty in 2014.
Shortly after learning the news, Arafa says,
the university faculty had a brief meeting.
“Everyone was in shock,” Arafa says. “Now,
everyone feels the responsibility to continue the mission. We believe in his dream.”
That dream, Zewail said back in April, “is a
new experiment for Egypt. We need a couple of more years to finish the job. But we
are moving in the right direction.” j
12 AUGUST 2016 • VOL 353 ISSUE 6300 633 SCIENCE sciencemag.org
Species don’t come much more endan- gered than the vaquita, a child-sized porpoise that is threatened by fish- ing nets in the northern reaches of Mexico’s Gulf of California. Just 60 re- main, experts warned earlier this year,
solidifying Phocoena sinus’s status as the
world’s most endangered marine mammal.
That grim assessment now has researchers
pondering a controversial strategy: capturing a handful of vaquitas and breeding them
“Given the crisis we’re in, we need to
explore all of our options,” says biologist
Barbara Taylor of the National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration’s South-
west Fisheries Science Center in San Diego,
California, who serves on the International
Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita
(CIRVA). “Keeping some individuals in a
sanctuary is one of those options.”
The idea is fraught with practical and po-
litical difficulties. No one has ever tried to
capture, transport, or care for the animals.
And some conservationists fear a captive
breeding program will undermine efforts to
save the species in the wild. “I don’t like this
idea at all,” says Omar Vidal, director general
of the environmental group World Wildlife
Fund (WWF) Mexico in Mexico City. “The
risk of killing a vaquita while catching them
is very high. With only 50 or 60 animals left,
we can’t play with that.”
The population of vaquitas, the world’s
smallest cetaceans at 1.5 meters long, has
been declining by an estimated 34% annually
since 2011, almost entirely because of fishing
with gillnets, which entangle and drown the
animals. In April 2015, the Mexican govern-
ment imposed a temporary 2-year ban on
gillnets within the vaquita’s range, and on
22 July it made the ban permanent, a move
long recommended by CIRVA’s scientists.
Illegal nets still pose a threat, however, as
poachers pursue a fish called the totoaba,
whose bladder fetches up to $20,000 in
China. Poachers killed at least three vaquitas
this past March alone.
Given the continuing danger, researchers
say they must consider captive breeding. The
strategy has helped save the black-footed ferret of the western prairies and the California
condor, whose populations had both dwindled to about 20 animals. But it has never
been tried with a cetacean, and although
some small marine mammals, such as bottlenose dolphins, thrive in captivity, porpoises
are ill-suited for confinement. “They’re very
sensitive to stress and noise, and they have
high heart rates,” says Frances Gulland,
a CIRVA member and senior scientist at
the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito,
Zewail City of Science and Technology’s university
began admitting students, tuition-free, in 2013.
Can captive breeding save
Scientists mull a risky strategy to save an imperiled porpoise
Set to capture sharks and other fish, a gillnet also snared a vaquita, a small, endangered porpoise.
By Ben Goldfarb