In their April 2013 magazine, National Geographic had an article on de-extinction, the ability to regenerate extinct species. I also wrote a blog post on the subject which was subsequented reprinted in ieet.org. The concept of de-extinction hit a nerve with many NG readers (see Aug 2013 “Letters”). Below are the abrieviated comments:
- Reviving them is a short-term dead end that doesn’t change anything.
- What would raise the baby and teach it the ways of the species? Have we forgotten the whole nature versus nurture dictim?
- As I envision it, we could even use the mammoth’s side for some priceless advertising space.
- Will we resurrect them only to keep them in supersize zoos?
- It would create a potential ecological catastrophe.
- Resurrecting extinct species just to see whether it can be done is not only impractical and wasteful but also borderline immoral.
And below is a sampling of the 16 letters that NG printed:
- Humans continue to reduce the numbers of tigers, elephants, whales–you name it–through poaching and habitat destruction and take more and more of the planet for ourselves and leave less and less for other animals. To bring a species back only to force it to live in a zoo or research laboratory, or to release it to struggle for survival in an environment that can’t support it, is cruel and unnecessary but consistent with our human-centric view of the world. (Allison Myers)
- Reviving extinct woolly mammoths would be tremendous. But what about Australophithecus, Homo habillis, and Homo erectus? Do we put them in zoos? Is it murder if you kill one? Are they human or not? Are they allowed to hold jobs, get student loans, and draw Social Security disability benefits? Still, it would be important to learn their level of capacity for abstract symbols, language, and culture. (Kenneth W. Johnson)
- We can never truly know the real nature, habits, and traits of these lost creatures. A resurrected animal will learn the behaviors of its adoptive parent/cousin, and therefore de-extinction can only bring back a look-alike. The true animal has been lost forever. (Sam Williams)
- I was given a completely different thought. Let’s try to save the species we still have first. Can’t we try cloning rhino horns and elephant tusk? Flood the market with the cloned products, and the value of poachers goes to zero. (Tom Morookian)
- Reintroducing extinct species into nature is a complex process that goes far beyond re-creating an organism in a laboratory. It involves fiscal, social, and ecological ramifications that were–to my extreme disappointment–barely if ever touch on in the article. (Jonathan Hirsch)
- Although the idea of bring back the dead intrigues me, the possible damage to our environment, which is already unstable, makes me wary. (Juliana Kim)