A Nenets boy touches a mammoth carcass outside the Shemanovsky Museum in Russia.
Photograph by Francis Latreille, International Mammoth Committee/National Geographic

 

Opinion: The Case for Reviving Extinct Species

There are a lot of reasons for bringing back extinct animals, the author argues.

Stewart Brand
for National Geographic News
Published March 11, 2013

Editor’s note: Stewart Brand is co-founder and president of The Long Now Foundation and creator of the Whole Earth Catalog. Check out our coverage on species revival, the topic of a Friday TEDx talk at National Geographic.

Many extinct species—from the passenger pigeon to the woolly mammoth—might now be reclassified as “bodily, but not genetically, extinct.” They’re dead, but their DNA is recoverable from museum specimens and fossils, even those up to 200,000 years old.

Thanks to new developments in genetic technology, that DNA may eventually bring the animals back to life. Only species whose DNA is too old to be recovered, such as dinosaurs, are the ones to consider totally extinct, bodily and genetically.

But why bring vanished creatures back to life? It will be expensive and difficult. It will take decades. It won’t always succeed. Why even try? (Related: Photos of Nearly Extinct Species.)

Why do we take enormous trouble to protect endangered species? The same reasons will apply to species brought back from extinction: to preserve biodiversity, to restore diminished ecosystems, to advance the science of preventing extinctions, and to undo harm that humans have caused in the past.

Furthermore, the prospect of de-extinction is profound news. That something as irreversible and final as extinction might be reversed is a stunning realization. The imagination soars. Just the thought of mammoths and passenger pigeons alive again invokes the awe and wonder that drives all conservation at its deepest level.

Read more:Opinion: The Case for Reviving Extinct Species — National Geographic.

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