By Akash Jaini
Akash Jaini is a full scholarship student at the New York University, from New Delhi. He has been a competitive debater and worked for many independent news corporations.
We live in a space where science fiction is quickly becoming scientific reality, although not precisely as we may have predicted it. Instead of developing the technology required for flying cars, we have cars that run on battery rather than fuel, and similarly, instead of cloning the ‘perfect human’, we have developed the technology to clone extinct species back to life.
De-extinction refers to cloning the genes of an extinct species and using the closest living relative as a surrogate to resurrect a self-sustainable and inter-breeding population of the species. The scientific community as a whole now acknowledges that the ability to do this is well within our grasp, with the cloning and resurrection of the extinct bucardo, or the Pyrenean ibex being the most notable example of such a feat. Ground-breaking work is also being done on the once abundant, but now extinct passenger pigeons. The deliberate cross breeding of species backwards to arrive at species that went extinct is also a form of de-extinction, for which far more successful examples also exist.
The critics speak out
It doesn’t come as a surprise then that this practice has many critics. Naturally, there are religious objections to man creating species and deciding which ones get to survive while others die out; a role most religions would argue should exclusively be carried out by God.
While science and religion continue butting heads, let us talk about de-extinction in the conservation context it should be discussed in. De-extinction as a conservation method also faces many critics, who state that these efforts would be better spent conserving existing species, that the habitat necessary for formerly extinct species to survive is too limited to warrant de-extinction, and that the evolutionary conservation benefits of these operations are questionable.
The other side of it
However, a different take on de-extinction and its importance as a conservation effort would be to understand the context of the current conservation scenario. Traditionally, conservation efforts have always been restricted by people who did not believe in the imminence and intensity of the environmental situation, which is a trend that continues even today, with the head of state of the most powerful nation in the world dismissing the phenomenon of Global Warming as a myth.
That being said, today, far more than ever before, people have realised just how problematic environmental degradation truly is, and this is where a relatively new problem has been introduced. It seems that now because the environment status is at such an alarming low, the more people know about the situation, the less they want to do about it. The idea of informing as many people as possible also seems to have been rendered inadequate. An attitude of “Why bother?” now plagues the very demographic that once fought so vehemently for the same conservation agenda.
Take India for example, which currently has close to 2000 tigers remaining in government protected reserves in the wild, with 67 reported tiger deaths already having been registered by the first half of 2017. Between the year 2008 and 2010, the National Tiger Conservation Authority estimated that ‘only’ 500 tigers had been poached in the two interim years as opposed to nearly double that number being poached every year before that. While in no way is the achievement of reduced poaching in National Tiger Reserves and Sanctuaries trivialised, these statistics reveal the dire state of affairs and come across as downright depressing. The conservation effort desperately needs a win!
He who makes good use of it
This is where de-extinction comes in to change the narrative. De-extinction could be exactly what is needed in terms of empirical success to inspire hope for the conservation agenda once again. To put this into perspective, the dodo bird is the first species most of us think of when extinct species are brought up. If de-extinction could bring back such an iconic extinct species by cloning, it could get the ball rolling for other conservation efforts and send a clear message across that says its never too late to start caring and trying.
Most critics state that this would make humans value endangered species less, however, this is exactly what would make us value them more and once again commit ourselves to a cause that might seem daunting at first glance, but can be achieved together. In this way, de-extinction benefits not only the diversity aspect of the conservation efforts but could also strengthen the very core values of hope that these efforts were built upon.
Featured Image Source: Flickr
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