Bringing Back the Mammoths

Katie Beilstein

Is it truly possible to resurrect an extinct species back into the world?
Surprisingly, scientists have already made progress in making such a thing a reality. Through modern technology and the present understanding of genetics, species thought to be gone forever may actually make a comeback. But why bother bringing back these animals?
Well, for one thing, certain extinct species may help restore natural biodiversity in the ecosystems they used to inhabit. For example, mammoths were responsible for helping in the development of the Arctic grasslands (mostly through clearing trees and spreading seeds of plants). When the mammoth went extinct, those grasslands slowly converted to the icy tundra we see today. Bringing back the woolly mammoth from extinction would help restore that environment. Scientists believe that by bringing back species who’ve been gone, they can successfully restore that ecosystem as niches are filled.
But how does de-extinction work? Can you actually bring back the exact species that died out years ago?
Well not quite. It’s nearly impossible to bring back the exact species that is gone. So scientists have to make do with what is presently available. What that essentially means is tracing back the extinct species to its closest living relative in a process called backbreeding. For the woolly mammoth, this might mean looking at the very similar Asian elephant and finding certain elephants with traits similar to the mammoth. Over time, scientists would breed these elephants to eventually get an Asian elephant that looks and behaves like the mammoth. This isn’t necessarily bringing back the exact same species, but instead working to develop a subset of a similar species that is an imitation. This sort of off-brand woolly mammoth would fill the same job in an ecosystem that the woolly mammoth would have, helping to restore an environment back to its former glory.
Of course, there are other methods to de-extinction, but I think we’re not acknowledging the elephant in the room.
Wouldn’t this sort of be messing with the natural order of things on earth? Is it really ethical to recreate a species that we drove to extinction?
Well, one major issue with bringing back the mammoths would be the fact that it would be a major dent in the finality of what “extinction” really is. Think about it-if humans can just work around those natural limitations of extinction to resurrect whatever animal they wanted, wouldn’t that remove the guilt of causing extinction in the first place? People would be spending time and money on research to bring animals back, that they would completely lose sight of the circumstances that caused the extinction in the first place.
Believe me, I would love to see a real-life Manny and Diego from Ice Age, wandering around a newly revived Arctic grassland. But how long would the benefits of de-extinction outweigh the negatives? If the public comes to an understanding that extinction is just a minor obstacle, it no longer evokes fear. Instead, it creates a sort of new age where the world is much more malleable to human intervention. We could bring back the closest thing to the mammoths, but would that really be the solution to the extinction problem?