5 Animals We’d Like to See “De-Extincted”
Artwork: Roelant Savery, Landscape with Birds, 1628. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Earlier this month, a team of Harvard scientists announced they are two years away from resurrecting the woolly mammoth using hybrid DNA spliced with an Asian elephant through the powerful gene-editing tool, Crispr. Scientists suggest the new creature, called a “mammophant” could help preserve the endangered Asian elephant in an altered form.
Other scientists have raised questions about the ethical value of such a project, asking what will happen to the hybrid when it is born and how regular elephants will respond to it. Time may tell as the Harvard team believes it is about a decade from growing a mammophant to completion outside the womb. As the culture that gave birth to H.G. Wells’ celebrated science fiction novel The Island of Doctor Moreau evolves to play God with the natural world, Crave considers five animals we’d like to see “de-extincted,” because who knows—maybe a team somewhere is already at work on it…
The Tasmanian Tiger, otherwise known as the thylacine, recently went extinct. A native of Australia, Tasmania, and New Guinea, the carnivorous marsupial dates back to the Oligocene Era, about 33 million years ago. The creature had survived all those years. Then the British arrived, and in the span of about two centuries, they were gone. By the 1930s, the Tasmanian Tiger was declared extinct, but high quality specimens have been kept pickled and preserved in museum jars or stuffed and displayed in exhibitions. Projects to clone the creature are already in the works.
Saber-toothed cats lived during the Eocene epoch to the end of the Pleistocene epoch, roaming the earth over a period dating from 42 million to 11,000 years ago. The use of the word “cats” is a misnomer, as current species of wild and domestic felines are not descended from them; in fact, the saber-toothed contingent are more closely related to marsupials than placental mammals. Nevertheless, these creatures have become a fixture in contemporary imagination, something of the superhero of the prehistoric world with their graceful prowess and their incomparable fangs. Creatures of the cold, their fossils are in good shape, making them ripe for genetic exploration.
Poor dude. The dodo, who had no fear of humans, was driven to extinction just 80 years after the Dutch first made contact with it on the island of Mauritius in 1598. As their habitat was being relentlessly destroyed by foreign invaders, the flightless birds were hunted and clubbed to death by bloodthirsty Europeans. The last sighting was in 1662, but its extinction was not immediately noticed, as foreigners began to mythologize the creature they had driven off the earth. DNA samples are rare but exist in the Oxford Museum of Natural History, and can be implanted into the eggs of pigeons, which are its closest living genetic relatives.
Over the past century, many species of rhinoceroses have been hunted to the point of extinction, while others have earned the support of a government that practice extreme acts of conservation. Like the elephant, its existence hangs in the balance of man: those who are determine to kill for ivory and those who will try to save them from such predators. The woolly rhino, like his counterpart the woolly mammoth, has only recently gone extinct some 10,000 years ago while co-habitating with man. Such creatures can be seen in ancient cave art in France, more evidence that they were likely hunted by man until they disappeared off the face of the earth. Because of the Arctic climate, their remains have survived in good enough shape to be mummified and displayed. The Summatran rhinoceros is its closest extant relative, giving it a means to be resurrected, should scientists be so inclined.
Last but far from least is the Neanderthal—because what is de-extinction without bringing back one of our own. Naturally, this is considered the most controversial creature on the block, because its surrogate is us. Neanderthals and homo sapiens share 99.7% of their DNA, making them exceedingly well-suited for de-extinction. Fossil evidence shows they went extinct just 40,000 years ago, after leaving Africa for Europe 100,000 years ago. Neanderthals, who lived among the woolly mammoths, woolly rhinos, and saber-toothed cats, are believed to have interbred with modern humans as well. In 2013, scientists sequenced the entire genome of a Neanderthal for the first time, giving us everything we need to bring these low-brow creatures back to life. The reality isn’t if we can do this so much as—if we should.
Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Whitewall, Dazed Digital, Jocks and Nerds, and L’Oeil de la Photographie. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.