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Four Reasons Why Cloning Extinct Animals Is Wrong

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Four Reasons Why Cloning Extinct Animals Is Wrong

From Earth in Transition
April 2013

De-extinction is antithetical to animal welfare - it's just another form of vivisection. De-extinction ignores the current mass extinction problem. De-extinction is not conservation. De-extinction promotes risky human attitudes.

clone cloning extinct wholly mammothLast month, I wrote that the buzz about cloning extinct animals like the woolly mammoth isn't really to do with conservation, as many of the people pursuing it are claiming. It's really being driven by commercial factory farming interests.

Still, the supposedly scientific arguments against bringing extinct animals" back to life" need to be addressed. And neuroscientist Dr. Lori Marino addresses them on her blog at the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy. She offers four reasons why "de-extinction" is a wrong and dangerous path to go down:

1. De-extinction is antithetical to animal welfare. Basically, it's just another form of vivisection. Creating even a single partially successful clone routinely involves suffering and death to many animals:

clone cloning extinct sheep DollyDolly, the famously cloned sheep, was the only successful organism in 237 eggs that had been used to create nearly 30 embryos that perished after being implanted into 13 surrogate mothers.

Three lambs were created but only one survived. Dolly suffered from severe arthritis and lung disease due to genetic mutations that occur during cloning and had to be euthanized at the young age of 6 years – half her species’ natural lifespan.

If that's what it takes to produce a sheep (very different from an extinct animal), how many elephants would have to suffer and die in hopes of producing a viable mammoth? (And how many failed mammoth babies?)

2. De-extinction ignores the current mass extinction problem. Why waste valuable time and money bringing back extinct animals when we need to save the ones who are still with us but are rapidly being driven to extinction?

What is the validity of promoting the revival of mammoths, for instance, when Asian and African elephants will be lost by 2020? ... Although some de-extinctionists insist that the knowledge we gain from de-extinction science may help us to save current species, this is a very dicey premise given the dire situation of the current mass extinction.

3. De-extinction is not conservation. Even you manage to bring back a mammoth body, what about her family, her environment, and everything that it would have meant to be a mammoth thousands of years ago? We haven't even managed to take endangered animals who are alive at zoos and return them successfully to existing natural habitats in the wild.

Keeping animals in zoos and aquaria has had little positive impact on the status of most endangered species. Of the multitudes of endangered and at-risk animals kept in zoos, including elephants and great apes, only a handful of species have been successfully reintroduced into the natural habitat.

Members of species that exist only in captivity are functionally extinct; their identity is not fully realized in an artificial environment. So, captivity offers little-to-no gain in conservation for either current species or ones brought back to life.

4. De-extinction promotes risky human attitudes. The idea that we can resolve the fact that we're currently driving thousands of species to extinction by cloning new versions of them is a very dangerous notion.

This is the same dangerous psychological game played by zoos, who fashion themselves as modern-day Noah’s Arks, providing false hope that species are being protected.

De-extinction represents a minefield of potential welfare and conservation missteps. Tragically, if we wait just another ten years or so then the African or Asian elephants of today will populate the growing list of candidate extinct species.