With advancements in genetic engineering, it is certainly possible to resurrect extinct species. Harvard scientist George Church said a couple of weeks ago that he was just two years away from creating a woolly mammoth embryo. A bigger question here is: Should we bring back the extinct species? Advocates of “de-extinction” say it would help fix some of the damage that humans have done to the environment.
Instead of reviving extinct species, save the endangered ones
A new study published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution says that rebuilding species that no longer exist would be a terrible idea. Scientists from Canada, Australia, and New Zealand looked into the cost of bringing back an extinct species and taking care of it afterward. They concluded that it would cost 3-8 times more than conserving an endangered species.
There are thousands of endangered species that need our help right now. The governments around the world offer only limited funding for the conservation of threatened animals. If an extinct species is to be revived, funds need to be diverted from other conservation efforts to protecting the new-old species. Joseph Bennett, a conservation biologist at Carleton University and lead author of the study, said we have many species going extinct every year. Instead of bringing back the dead, we can devote our limited resources to help save the endangered ones.
Who is going to teach it to be a wild animal?
Researchers analyzed the cost of reviving a dead species. Their estimates did not include the actual cost of bringing back a species because no one knows how much it would cost. Assuming the educational institutions or private organizations would foot that bill, the revived species’ population would still be small. It would need the same kind of protection that a threatened species needs. They calculated that conserving a Chatham bellbird would cost about $360,000 during the first year.
The amount of money it would take to revive one extinct species could be used to conserve 3-8 living species that are on the verge of extinction. Technical challenges and funding are only part of the problem. For instance, once you have revived a thylacine, who is going to teach it to be a thylacine? How is it going to learn? And you have to create them in enough numbers to ensure a viable population, said Professor Hugh Possingham of the University of Queensland.
Will the new-old species be able to survive today?
Assuming scientists can create a viable population and teach them to be wild animals again, there are still many other issues. The world has changed dramatically in the last few centuries. Will they be able to survive in today’s atmosphere? Some of the factors (including diseases) that drove them to extinction might still be present. Therefore, it makes more sense to focus our funding and efforts on protecting endangered species rather than trying to reintroduce extinct creatures.
“You get much bigger bang for your buck,” Professor Hugh Possingham told the Sydney Morning Herald.