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"De-Extinction" and Zoos

Discussion in 'General Zoo Discussion' started by Lukose, 22 Aug 2015.

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Where do you stand on the prospects of "de-extinction"?

  1. No, de-extinction shouldn't be carried out. It is unethical.

    2 vote(s)
    6.3%
  2. No, de-extinction shouldn't be carried out. It would take importance away from conservation efforts.

    9 vote(s)
    28.1%
  3. Yes, de-extinction should be carried out, but the revived species should remain in captivity.

    1 vote(s)
    3.1%
  4. Yes, de-extinction should be carried out, but only for species lost due to human activity.

    9 vote(s)
    28.1%
  5. Yes, de-extinction and re-introduction should occur, but only for keystone species of ecosystems.

    7 vote(s)
    21.9%
  6. Yes, de-extinction and re-introduction should occur, and all animals revived should be returned.

    4 vote(s)
    12.5%
  1. Lukose

    Lukose Member

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    As many of you know, the prospect of so-called "de-extinction" is becoming much more popular in discussion. Many people now view it much more as a reality than a dream, and more of a question of "should we" instead of "could we."

    I think now is as relevant of a time as ever to poll this community on the ethics of de-extinction, given the recent progress the Long Now Foundation has made on the genome studies of the Woolly Mammoth and Passenger Pigeon, as well as the Taurus and Uruz projects concerning the Aurochs.

    Not to mention of course, the first revival of an extinct taxon 14 years ago, which ended up only temporary.

    So, in short, which of these options most closely resembles your opinion on de-extinction, provided our efforts are successful?

    Feel free to discuss the reasoning behind your choice and anything else further into the subject below.

    Mammoth DNA in Elephant Cells
    Woolly Mammoth DNA Inserted into Elephant Cells

    Mammoth Genome Analysis
    Woolly Mammoth Clones Edge Closer to Reality After Genome Analysis - NBC News

    Revive & Restore
    Home Page | Revive & Restore
     
  2. Zooplantman

    Zooplantman Well-Known Member

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    It is a horrific indulgence.
    If we cannot conserve wild elephants anywhere on this planet then what is the purpose of the series of breeding disasters that would perhaps result in a wooly mammoth?

    (from the Restore & Revive home page)

    We cannot "return them to the wild." That "wild" disappeared thousands of years ago. How many mistakes must be born and destroyed or die quickly to bring it about? And for what? To prove that we can? We are not heading towards a new Ice Age so it's not like they'll make good steaks for when the cattle freeze. It is fantasy that the project will in any way benefit living elephants. So what is the real reason?
    The ecosystem that Passenger Pigeons belonged to is gone. A successful flock could never survive. So they would simply be exhibits. And the sad reality of extinction would be shrunk to "but we can always bring them back."
    So, why?
     
  3. Pleistohorse

    Pleistohorse Well-Known Member

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    Then why save anything? The Passenger Pigeon may not have required a "swarm sponsoring" (my simplification) wilderness to survive as a species. Perhaps the environment it was first observed, by Europeans, inhabiting was actually "re-wilded" due to the demise of earlier Native American civilizations knocked down by European pathogens. Earlier birds circa 1491, may have lived in disrupted environments similar to what the species endured in the mid-19th century...only without the industrial slaughter...although Native Amercans drove far more species too extinction than European Americans ever did...from a certain point of view. As to the Mammoth...if they modify their habitat as expected, the vast and underpopulated and well protected northern wilds might be the only place where Elephants of any type have a real shot at longterm survival...not that anyone expects herds of Mammoths ripping up willows along Hudson Bay anytime in the next century or two...and by then hopefully a more enlightened age has gotten very good at the captive breeding and reintroduction of large mammals.

    I kinda hope Elephants are on a trajectory similar to what American Bison went through...and someone in their native lands realizes what they are about to lose...
     
  4. Crocodile

    Crocodile Member

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    Personally, I think de-extinctions of some form are inevitable. It may not be the Ice Age megafauna that will be brought back, and arguably shouldn't be, but many recently extinct species still belong. One of the common arguments against de-extinction is that it would be a distraction from current conservation efforts, and I partially agree. But I think it would be a nice distraction. Imagine that years after the last northern white rhinoceros dies, a surrogate southern white at San Diego Safari Park gives birth to a healthy northern clone. That calf would become a media-darling in a way that a cutesy panda cub could only dream. The northern white rhinoceros would join the ranks of the California condor and golden-lion tamarin in success stories. It would give people the world over joy and, more importantly, hope.

    I'm not arguing that cloning and synthetic biology should or even could replace tried-and-true breeding programs, but as a supplement for species that are close to the brink like Yangtze giant softshells, it could be quite literally life-and-death. And if a functionally-extinct species deserve conservation all the way until the final bell, why can't we look to trying to resurrect more-than-functionally-extinct species? Take the po'ouli for example. The Frozen Zoo has tissue samples in their collection. If they could find an ethical way of bringing them back and restoring them to Hawaii, why should the classification of 'extinct' stop them? Ethically, unless it's just a matter of prioritizing limited resources, one could argue that it's wrong not to try.

    In the “could we vs. should we” debate, I think we should also ask, “if/when this does happen, who should be doing it”. Zoos offer a conservation message of optimism and are the obvious choice. That said, currently zoos may not be the arks that we like to imagine. At best - lifeboats, struggling to stay afloat managing sustainable populations of a fraction of the animals that need it. Current SSP's have a goal of maintaining received genetic diversity of captive populations at 90% over 100 years. A high goal, but only 5% of SSP's meet that requirement (A lecture by St. Louis Zoo's Jeff Bonner – relavent part starting at ~1:16min: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tR-ZLQjv1Kc&list=PLj2-tunX7dPSgWfNOlnMKXaguUQkOJxIO&index=8). Many are close, but about half of our species in American zoos will disappear within the century without a solution. If we truly believe that zoos are centers of conservation and not just entertainment, then we should not be so rash at words like 'cloning' and 'genetic engineering'. Options like frozen zoos, artificial insemination, and synthetic biology could help zoos maintain small populations of endangered species without compromising genetic diversity. And if those endangered species included the likes of thylacines, huias, and great auks, well then awesome. If the meaning of the phrase “went the way of the dodo” was flipped on its head and de-extinction provided a way of getting the public to care about biodiversity, I think the world would be changed for the better.
     
  5. Lukose

    Lukose Member

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    I definitely find myself supporting de-extinction. However, it should, in all cases, take backseat status to current conservation. Saving the species we have now will always be the priority.

    Luckily, half of Revive and Restore is focused on genetic assistance for existing animals. The full list of the focus animals are on the site, but several include rhinoceros (Nile, Javan, Sumatran), tasmanian devil, Yangtze softshell, hirola, prairie chickens, and a variety of amphibians.
     
  6. Dassie rat

    Dassie rat Well-Known Member

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    I voted for 'Yes, de-extinction should be carried out, but only for species lost due to human activity'. While a lot of people may want to bring back large dinosaurs, I can't see much point in that, as the dinosaurs would lack a viable ecosystem and would cause havoc with threatened native species.
    Any species chosen for de-extinction would have to be able to survive in its former habitat without causing damage to other species. This would require research, as happened before beavers were reintroduced to Scotland.
    I have been watching the videos about the 'Future of Zoos' and have found them interesting. Zoos need to look at the animals they keep and why they keep them. Is it worth many zoos keeping the same species of animals that are not yet threatened or are too large to be returned to the wild
    Obviously, any animal chosen for de-extinction would have to have a closely related extant relative and have viable DNA.
     
  7. Loxodonta Cobra

    Loxodonta Cobra Well-Known Member

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    I voted "No, de-extinction shouldn't be carried out. It would take importance away from conservation efforts."

    It would, really. We have enough problems conserving animals that are still alive with many going to become extinct probably in our lifetimes, so why should we play god and try to bring back species that died out long ago like mammoths that didn't even die of human fault. Animals should not be brought back just because they're famous and because they look cool. If it was a passenger pigeon, Tasmanian tiger, and atlas bear or any other species that was lost due to human interference I feel it would be alright but then again where in the world will you put these animals in such a crowded world and a world that cares about conserving animals that are alive today? And how would they interfere with conservation programs of other species?
     
  8. Dassie rat

    Dassie rat Well-Known Member

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    Hello Loxodonta cobra.

    £1.3m hedgehog cull to save islands' birds eggs 'fails' - The Scotsman shows the problems of reintroduction. The hedgehog is declining in much of Britain, but is thriving in the Western Isles. That is causing problems between people who want to conserve hedgehogs and those who want to conserve sea birds. I got very irritated when I saw a programme that stated that red foxes had been introduced to Tasmania, as it was obvious what would happen. I would hope that thylacines would be able to create an ecological balance with native species.
     
  9. Lukose

    Lukose Member

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    I do believe the limits of DNA degradation limit the viable revival of species at up to a maximum of 850,000 years. Therefore, we wouldn't have to worry about anyone trying to bring back dinosaurs, at least with current technology. Revive & Restore also has a criteria checklist that I think everyone on this thread should check out.

    They have a detailed list of criteria that determine whether an animal is a good candidate or not for the program. The most popular choices are on there. It shows that the programs ideals are very much grounded in reality and not fixated on reviving things that "look cool."

    Candidate Species | Revive & Restore
     
  10. ZooElephantsMan

    ZooElephantsMan Well-Known Member

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    I think we can clone animals that people brought extinct, and animals that went extinct but if brought back would greatly benefit their ecosystems (regardless of what made them go extinct). I think you should never bring back any dinosaurs no matter what. animals that humans didn't bring extinct but would benefit modern day ecosystems would take a backseat to animals we did bring extinct. So it would be more important to bring back thylacines than mammoths.

    I completely understand why all these people are against everything about this.

    Other conservation programs with breeding would be a priority
     
  11. Lukose

    Lukose Member

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    "The tundra and much of the taiga – the sometimes swampy coniferous forest of high northern latitudes – were once a grassland ecosystem known as the “mammoth steppe” which was home to abundant herds of antelope, deer, bovids, horses, and mammoths. At the end of the Pleistocene these herds vanished. The tundra that arose in the absence of these species is now contributing to human driven climate change. Without grasslands to insulate the tundra’s permafrost, the permafrost is melting, releasing greenhouse gases that have been trapped for tens and hundreds of thousands of years. The melting of the world’s permafrost is equivalent to burning all the world’s forests 2 ½ times."

    -Revive & Restore

    Climate change prevention is also a reason to bring certain Pleistocene megafauna like Mammuthus and Coelodonta back. In a way similar to Europe Rewilding rebuilds meadows and plains in Europe, Pleistocene Park Rewilding has already started to help rebuild a section of the famous Steppe of the northeast.
     
  12. Mr. Zootycoon

    Mr. Zootycoon Well-Known Member

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    De-extinction is just money wasting.
    With the money already used for this purpose many endangered species could have been sales. We have already trouble conserving nowadays endangered species.

    IF no species would be threatened with extinction because of humans,
    IF there's enough wild habitat for them and
    IF the reason why the species is taken out,
    THAN de-extinction could be a possibility.
    But by then there's no need for zoos at all so for me the question is quite irrevelant.
     
  13. temp

    temp Well-Known Member

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    Whenever we're at a point where all (I might even settle for most) species that are alive today can be saved with the resources available to conservationists, then yes do start spending huge sums on making recently extinct species "de-extinct". I doubt we'll ever get to that point. From a conservation point of view I therefore feel that the only sensible choices are either of the options with no to de-extinction.

    Regardless of this I can't see any valid argument for ever trying to "de-extinct" species that became extinct a looong time ago (pre-Holocene), where suitable habitats are not available today, or where we do not already have decent data on their lifestyle (e.g. what they ate to make sure it could be supplied today). It would be animal cruelty.
     
  14. DDcorvus

    DDcorvus Well-Known Member

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    But would the funds that are spend now on de-extinction ever been available for species-conservation?
     
  15. FunkyGibbon

    FunkyGibbon Moderator Staff Member

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    I think you're bang on with this. In this hypothetical 'post sixth wave extinction' utopia it would be great to see a lot of the mega fauna that was lost in the last 100,000 years. As we're basically wishlisting at this point we could even assume that vast tracts of land could be restored. Climate would still be an issue of course.

    Somewhere on this site there is an interesting discussion about the ethical implications of using elephants as surrogate parents for mammoths.

    I think if de-extinction does become viable for big 'charismatic' lifeforms some sort of commercial Cenozoic Park is probably inevitable, even if we still have lots of other conservation issues.
     
  16. Mr. Zootycoon

    Mr. Zootycoon Well-Known Member

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    Of course not, but it is weird that people spend loads of money
    to 'save' species already extinct while not spending money, or at
    least less money, on species we can save before they get extinct.

    And even IF you want to being back an extinct species,
    why start with a mammoth? It's big, needs loads of space and money
    and we need to use another endangered species to bring it back.
    Why not try to bring back some extinct snails or extinct variants/subspecies of living species?
    Money again, I guess... People pay for mammoths, not for snails :(
     
  17. Dassie rat

    Dassie rat Well-Known Member

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    Mr Zootycoon

    I agree with you about saving smaller animals, such as snails. These can be often kept and bred relatively cheaply and some species of small animals have been returned to the wild. A lot of money is being spent to keep some popular species of zoo animals in captivity, while the same money could be used to save many more species of smaller animals. Another advantage would involve moving progeny to natural habitats, rather than trying to find a zoo with a large enough enclosure for a large species.
     
  18. jbnbsn99

    jbnbsn99 Well-Known Member

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    I think there are a lot of false dichotomies in this debate.

    1. Either we save the living species or we revive extinct ones.
    2. Either we have the money available for living species or we have money available for extinct one.
    etc.

    The reality is, it's much more of a gray area than that. Money and habitat are finite resources. What isn't finite is human ingenuity.

    De-extinction on some level will happen, it's only a matter of time. Within 10-20 years, I'm almost positive we will see Pyrenean Ibex, Gastric Brooding Frogs, and several other species either in captivity or in a semi-wild state. Who's to say what else could be done.

    Economics is the driving factor in all of this. Can it make money or provide long-term benefit to humanity. If the answer to this is yes, then full speed ahead with the project. If the answer is no, then the likelihood is far more limited.

    Let's suppose a hypothetical situation with the Pyrenean Ibex. This is the most likely candidate for de-extinction - because it's already been done. This is a species that lived in Spain and France, two of the most industrial and advanced countries on the planet. I would envision a multi-step process.

    1. Marketing - why should people care about the Ibex. Answer, make it a symbol of both national failure and potential pride. If working with people has taught me anything, you must play to the emotional side of human nature. "You let this species go extinct under your protection, you should be ashamed of yourself." Followed by: "Help us fix the problem through creativity, ingenuity, and science." If you play it as a story of loss and redemption, then the public will eat it up. This step should take 2-3 years.

    1a. Fundraising - once there is a public demand, then create a campaign to fund the project. I guarantee that a project with emotional appeal and local value will raise far more money than raising money for snails on a remote Pacific island.

    2. Cloning - this has been proven to work with the species, though the individual animal did not survive. All that is needed now is time, effort, and money. This step should take 2-3 years again. That is time clone the first animals and start an initial breeding program.

    3. Captivity - inevitably, the first animals will be relegated to zoos. This should tie back in to step one. People need to be able to see the success in the wake of their failure. Time line 5-10 years.

    4. Reintroduction - once a firm population has been established (50-100 animals, say) then it is time to finally reintroduce a stable population back into their original range. Tie this back into step one, this should be celebrated in both countries. An Ibex festival or the like to celebrate the animal and what humans can do through hard work and ingenuity.

    All the while, through steps 3 and 4, steps 1 and 2 must be ongoing. Timeline for the whole project is 15-20 years.

    Does this affect negatively other conservation programs? Absolutely not. If anything, a project of this nature will benefit other species. The technology developed will aid other projects. The land set aside for protected areas will benefit every wild thing in that lives in the Pyrenees.

    I don't think anyone can object to this kind of de-extinction. The same process can easily be done for animals like Tarpan (with domestic horse), Kouprey (with domestic cow), and several other species with close relatives.

    The Elephant in the Room.

    I think most people's problem with de-extinction starts with mammoths. Is it possible to clone a mammoth? Yes, it will be, but not yet.

    The biggest problem here is that the surrogate, the Asian Elephant, is itself endangered. Were it not so, there probably wouldn't be as much debate.

    That said, I'm sure that it will happen. The technology will not only revive the mammoth,, but will aid in elephant conservation as well.

    This is perhaps the most important species that we can de-extinct. Elephants are the architects of their environment. One can make the argument that the arctic tundra is not what it should be because of the removal of mammoths. Pleistocene Park in Siberia has shown that by reintroducing once native wildlife, they've dramatically changed the ecosystem. They've helped to save the permafrost. Grasslands are growing. The argument that their is no habitat for mammoths left simply doesn't hold water. The mammoths themselves built their habitat, and would do so again. By having mammoths, which help to preserve permafrost, we could actually combat climate change.

    The above is of course extremely difficult. Whereas I gave a potential timeline of 15-20 years for Ibex, we'd probably be looking at 25-50 years for mammoths to be roaming the tundra of Canada and Siberia again.

    Is there an economic gain to this?

    Huge. The potential of seeing mammoths in the wild would be one of the great ecotourism trips in the world. Not only do we see one of the most impressive species ever encountered in human history, we can also marvel at human ingenuity.

    The biggest problem I see is the surrogates. Right now, we have to rely on another closely related species in order for the de-extinction to work. But, what if someone were to create an artificial womb (we're talking mammals here only)? What would that entail? It would need a method of pumping blood, providing nutrients, and protecting the growing fetus. If those could be overcome, then think of the possibilities. Not only do we now have the technology to de-extinct long gone species, but what could it hold for the animals we currently have that are on the brink?

    That's of course pie in the sky, but don't think for a moment that it couldn't happen. The greatest leaps forward come in small steps.
     
  19. Lukose

    Lukose Member

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    Thank you for your input on the matter, jbnbsn. Very thought provoking stuff.

    Artificial wombs seem to be the holy grail of de-extinction. In coming years, more conventional techniques will be make up what we know of it, and for good reason. But it's absolutely wondrous to imagine things like Steller Sea Cows paddling the Bering coasts, Macrauchenia and Toxodon stomping the Pampas, giant sloths seeding Joshua trees in the American southwest.

    Of course, it's important not to get lost in thought here. These are just daydreams, for now. "Pie in the sky", as it's been said. But many many decades from now, likely after our lifetimes are long and done, when technology has advanced and related environmental and conservation conflicts have been solved; it may no longer be a thing of fantasy.
     
  20. Mr. Zootycoon

    Mr. Zootycoon Well-Known Member

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    Jbsbsn, skip the cloning part and you have a great strategy to save modern day species.

    Actually, you missed some problems for the mammoth, one is ivory trade.
    Elephants are (partly) endagered because of (illegal) ivory trade.
    Whole herds are being slauthered together. Image what might happen to mammoths.

    Besides, how much do we actually know about the mammoth's role in the ecosystem?
    What did they exactly eat? What plants do they prefer? What is their exact habitat?
    We have trouble answering these questions about european bison and they
    died our in the wild in 1921, let alone how little we know about an animal extinct for thousants of years!

    Last but not least: they probably died out partly or completely because of climate change.
    And it is only getting warmer. They might 'create' their habitat, but they can't change temperatures. If global warming continues, they might not only get de-extinct, but probably re-extinct in a coupe of hundred years.