So, I was on a very interesting Archon panel about this Woolly Mammoth De-Extinction Project. Now, the Archon description compared bringing back mammoths to Jurassic Park, which I do think is sooooo overstated.
The basic truth about large animals is: they are easy to find and kill. If your huge dinosaurs or mammoths are causing serious problems, you can shoot them all. I mean, our ancestors eradicated woolly mammoths using nothing but spears. Killing large animals is just not that hard. It’s not like trying to track down the green tree snakes that destroyed the songbird populations of Guam.
However, it’s also clear if you check out the website that there is no practical goal of re-creating the actual extinct woolly mammoth — the goal is just to create an animal more or less suited for the same ecological niche.
Breakthrough advances in genomic biotechnology are presenting the possibility of bringing back long-extinct species — or at least “proxy” species with traits and ecological functions similar to the extinct originals.
In which case … why bother? You have lost the poetry inherent in bringing back the real thing. I’m not convinced we can predict the ecological consequences of establishing large populations of hairy elephants, especially without their natural predators. The whole thing lacks the allure of true de-extinction, for me.
Instead of fake woolly mammoths, I’d rather focus on de-extinction of much more recently eradicated creatures, like Tasmanian thylacines. Some fragmentary DNA is present in museum specimens, though putting together the whole genome is beyond our abilities at this point.
The Tasmanian ecosystem lacks a natural large predator without the thylacine. Dogs and cats ought to be tightly controlled on the island in any event; they can be so destructive for native faunas on islands. Then if the thylacine could be reintroduced, great!