At first blush I thought this was one of the stupidest ideas I'd ever heard.
Then I thought about it more carefully. Considering the level of habitat destruction, species rapidly going extinct because of human encroachment, and the possibility that many of our most well-known and largest species may simply die off and I concluded that it was still one of the stupidest ideas I'd ever heard.
First of all, one of the obvious problems is where one intends to keep such "restored" species. After all, if they died off because of human encroachment, then that situation isn't going to change, so where do they go?
This also does nothing to address the issue of food sources, etc. since an extinct species may well find that it's particular ecological niche has been filled by other competitors, which makes reintroduction problematic.
We also know that species don't exist based on a single mating pair, much less a single cloned animal, so this immediately raises the question of genetic diversity necessary to have a viable population.
Then, of course, there's the basis for this article's title which is that of "recovering" creatures that are long extinct, such as the Wooly Mammoth and all that would entail (2).
Now, it isn't my intent to simply rain on their parade, but rather to consider some of the unintended consequences and ethical considerations in engaging in such activity.
If we truly aren't prepared to share the planet with these species, then we shouldn't even entertain the idea of bringing them back. This isn't something that we should pursue for our own entertainment, simply so that there can be an exotic exhibit in a zoo someplace. Yet, if we truly were to address this problem, then the very concerns regarding extinction may well be eliminated.
In addition, without knowing the specific reasons why a particular species went extinct, we may be engaged in a fool's errand, where we are attempting to circumvent the effects of natural selection, simply because we think we know better. After all, extinction is part of biology, just as death is, and to arbitrarily resurrect a species simply because we're curious doesn't make much sense.
Without the requisite genetic diversity we may well create a population that is highly susceptible to ravaging diseases, or even worse, make them a relatively uniform vector for other pathogens to jump species. The lack of genetic diversity is a strong argument that many of these species would be so heavily inbred as to be more of a liability than a solution.
Moreover, many species depend on being taught how to survive by their parents. Who is to provide this knowledge? An extinct species, regardless of what it looks like as an adult is ignorant of the environment it is supposed to live in. If this can't be addressed, then we are achieving nothing by restoring such species, unless the intent was to never let them live freely.
Certainly this is exacerbated when one considers bringing back an animal like the Wooly Mammoth, where literally everything has changed, and our ignorance is so profound that all we can offer such a clone would be our best guesses. Under these conditions, one couldn't even argue that such a cloned creature would have any scientific research value, since we could never be sure that the animal being examined is truly representative of the extinct ancestor.
In short, I see little to commend this idea. I am also concerned that this is precisely the wrong tact to take when it comes to protecting habitat and the biosphere. Instead of being concerned that extinctions change the dynamic of our biosphere, we are behaving as if these creatures are like furniture that we can simply replace when it wears out. We don't need to worry about taking care of things, because they are viewed as existing in complete isolation, so that we only need to worry about their genetics in order to restore them.
Clearly this is defective thinking, since we are already familiar with all the ancillary effects that go into producing a viable species; microbiota and epigenetic effects. What do we do to recover this ecosystem?
Basically this entire premise seems like they would like to do the "right thing", but it is so seriously misguided, that I fear that it will only create monstrosities and add cruelty to the plight of the creatures it is trying to save.
While some people may simply be uncomfortable with the whole idea because they see it as playing God, I don't think so. Presumably God knows what he is doing, whereas we are Mickey Mouse in the Sorcerer's Apprentice only thinking that we know.
(1) Dresser is the keeper of a new kind of zoo – a frozen zoo – where she’s collecting tiny skin samples from thousands of different animals, representing hundreds of species, and is storing them at 343 degrees below zero in tiny canisters inside tanks filled with liquid nitrogen.
“We’ve got lions and tigers, we’ve got gorillas and rhinos. We’ve got little frogs. All of the animals…that people know in zoos,” she explained.
(2) “I think it would fire up people’s imaginations. And I think somewhere there’s a 9-year-old girl watching this program and listening to this saying, ‘That’s what I wanna do. I wanna bring back these creatures that are extinct. Or I wanna protect creatures that are now threatened from going extinct.’ So in many ways, I think the woolly mammoth can sort of be a poster animal for a general effort of being more conscious of our activities on the planet,” Carroll explained.