It’s not always easy sharing the world with humans. Many species have died trying. Among the animals humankind has driven to extinction in the relatively recent past are the quagga (a very cool zebra subspecies), the passenger pigeon, and the Javan rhino.
These animals will never roam the earth again. Or at least that was what most of us have been assuming.
But where humankind destroyed, there are now rumbles of possible creation. While we’re still lacking the technology to resurrect an extinct species, some scientists and conservationists are eyeing cloning as a way to bring back these animals in the future.
After all, we clone cattle, don’t they? Is it that much of a stretch to give life to animals we have decimated? Right now, yes. The technology just isn’t there. But many are hopeful something will change in the future as science advances.
What about cloning currently endangered species? Would it be possible to clone elephants, gorillas, tigers, and other animals near the brink? Turns out it’s tough enough to clone domestic species that exist completely under our control, and whose physiologies have been studied closely over time. Endangered species would be another animal all together.
Many scientists believe cloning endangered species in a way that could truly be considered successful is an impossible dream. But others are far more optimistic. Pasqualino Loi, of Italy’s University of Teramo, has high hopes that science can overcome the technical hurdles.
"Once cloning of endangered animals is properly established, it will be a very powerful tool," Loi said to Scientific American. "If something can be done, it will be done in 10 years."
Some conservation and zoological organizations have already started archiving genetic information from endangered species in order to have the stuff of life at their fingertips. The idea is to potentially stave off the demise of endangered species—or perhaps someday to bring back species we’ve helped wipe out.
There’s even talk in some circles about the possibility of resurrecting wooly mammoths and dinosaurs, but most agree that’s probably just the province of Jurassic Park. Recent findings point to the likelihood that their DNA is probably too far gone.
Still, while the idea of righting our wrongs sounds warm and fuzzy, it begs countless questions. Is it really ethical? Do the circumstances that drove the animals to extinction still exist? Would there be a place for them in the natural world? Could we guarantee their survival this time around? Would it throw the circle of life out of whack?
It’s almost god-like to have the power to both give and take away life on this scale.
Should we pursue cloning technology for endangered (or extinct) species? Or should we just try to do right by the animals now, while there’s still hope they can make it on their own if given the chance? Tell us in the COMMENTS.
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Maria Goodavage is author of The New York Times bestselling book Soldier Dogs. She has been a staff writer at USA Today and the San Francisco Chronicle, and is a regular contributor at Dogster online magazine. She lives in San Francisco with her husband, daughter, and a big dog.