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Debating the concept of de-extinction is interesting

Published: Thursday, March 21, 2013 8:44 p.m. CDT

De-extinction. Now there is an interesting word. Last night as I was reading the latest and greatest to make headlines across the nation there was an article about this very topic and it caught my attention.

I’ll try to summarize what de-extinction is all about. Throughout the world, there is a committee of experts that are trying to decide what animals that they should bring back. As in bring back from extinction!

Believe it or not, they have already compiled a list of the most likely candidates. The creatures on the list cover a wide range of species. Some of them that are being talked about for “bringing back” include the Dodo, Labrador Duck, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, a woolly mammoth, a mastodon, saber-toothed cat, the Tasmanian tiger and the Monk seal.

Some of you may be wondering about dinosaurs. If we are going to bring an animal back from extinction, how cool would it be to have a real-life Jurassic Park? Dinosaurs have been gone for so long that their DNA samples are too degraded. All of the species on the above list have viable DNA samples that could be used for replication in the lab.

Each of these creatures listed also have something in common that I think is more interesting to talk about and it is where the real moral debate begins. Everything that this committee is considering has had interactions with humans. In some way, humans could have been or were the direct cause for these creatures to go extinct.

For some animals, it is clear that humans drove them over the edge into oblivion. This was especially true when gunpowder allowed the creation of firearms that made killing at a distance possible. Unregulated market hunting and poaching also played a role. Humans have had an impact on wildlife though even before modern weapons.

During the last Ice Age our ancestors hunted mammoths and mastodons. They would follow these creatures like the generations of nomads before them. Follow the food. Did what they take leave a sustainable population or was the constant hunting of the herd too much for the species to handle?

If that is the case then do we owe it to these species to bring them back? If it is within the realm of our science to right a wrong that we caused should it be done? I don’t know. Some days I think that, yes, we should. Other days I think it is some sort of evil Frankenstein science that could have ramifications not yet known.

If we skip past the moral issue which could be, or most likely will be, debated for many generations to come, we get to another outdoors issue at stake. Do we have the habitat for these creatures to live in? Are these animals only going to be scientific musings that are relegated to live in captivity? What impact will they have on creatures that currently exist?

Do these questions play a role in which species might be listed for de-extinction? I really think that if we can replace the extinct Ivory-billed woodpecker then we should. The impact that this one bird would have on the environment would most likely be minimal. A saber-toothed cat though?

People are having wild discussions about possible cougar sightings throughout the Midwest, could you imagine if those sightings involved a saber-tooted cat! Bringing back a top predator like that would surely have an enormous impact on the environment. Or is this one of those creatures that would only be allowed to be caged in a zoo? Hmmm.

It is kind of fun to have this discussion. I won’t lie; I would rush to a zoo that was filled with extinct creatures! The chance to see something that has only been read about in books or has only been brought to life through modern day animation techniques would be tempting. The question that is at the forefront though-is should we?

Whether or not we will is probably already beyond discussion. This is going to happen at some time. Will it be this year, next year, or next century? Who knows? It will become a reality though.

Science and technology change the way we think on a daily basis. How we respond to science and technology though is what will have the greatest impact on the outdoors. These are interesting questions. Who knows what types of articles Into the Outdoors might write about in the future-possibly a story about a close encounter with a Dodo bird.

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