Should We Bring Back Extinct Animals?
This National Geographic News article explains the focus of a scientific conference on “de-extinction.” De-extinction is exactly what it sounds like. Thanks to groundbreaking research in genetics, scientists theoretically have the technology to “clone” an extinct species, as long as DNA can be retrieved from a preserved specimen. The first de-extinction project focuses on the passenger pigeon, although supporters of the technology say the European aurochs, Pyrenean ibex, Tasmanian tiger, and woolly mammoth may also be resurrected.
- Take a look at some extinct animals that are ripe for resurrection. Right now, the passenger pigeon tops the list of possible candidates for de-extinction. Do students agree? Why?
- Read the first two pages of our encyclopedic entry on endangered species. Species become endangered and extinct for two reasons: loss of habitat and loss of genetic variation. Does de-extinction technology address these issues? (no)
- In the short video associated with the conference, scientists and engineers pose a series of open-ended questions. One of the most basic comes from Australian paleontologist Michael Archer, who is interested in the de-extinction of the Tasmanian tiger. “If you bring an animal like that back,” he says, “what are you going to do with it?” How would students answer that question? Would they keep the cloned animal in a zoo or research facility? Would they try to re-introduce it to “the wild”? How would they determine where “the wild” would be? How would they determine how the de-extinct animal would interact and compete with other species for resources?
- De-extinct species would most likely live in a captive breeding environment, at least initially. Read Introduction to Captive Breeding, an activity that explains the goals of captive breeding programs. If students were managing a zoo, would they invest in a captive-breeding program for de-extinct animals? What would be the benefits of such a program? What would be the costs? (Benefits may include increased publicity, visitation, and revenue for the zoo, as well as the scientific distinction of being home to a “new” species of animal. Costs include financing to develop the program, including habitat, research facilities, and food. Students may consider if these costs would come at the expense of other programs, such as captive-breeding programs for endangered species that still have viable populations, such as tigers or pandas.)
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