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Cloning Woolly Mammoths: It’s the Ecology, Stupid

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Artist's rendering of woolly mammoths.

Artist's rendering of woolly mammoths.

As an ecologist of ice age giants, I long ago came to terms with the fact that I will never look my study organisms in the eye. I will never observe black-bear-sized beavers through binoculars in their natural habitats, build experimental exclosures to test the effects of mastodons on plants, or even observe a giant ground sloth in a zoo.

As a conservation paleoecologist, I study the natural experiments of the past—like climate change and extinction—to better understand the ecology of a warming, fragmented world. Admitedly, part of the appeal of the ice age past is the challenge of reconstructing long-disappeared landscapes from fragments like pollen, tiny fragments of charcoal, and bits of leaves preserved in lakes. In the absence of mammoths, for example, I rely instead on spores of fungi that once inhabited their dung.

De-extinction could change that. On Friday, a group of geneticists, conservationists, journalists, and others convened in Washington, D.C. to discuss resurrecting extinct species, including the woolly mammoth. De-extinction sounds like science fiction, but it’s rooted in very real conservation concerns. With the sequencing of the woolly mammoth genome complete and recent advancements in biotechnology, the question of whether to clone extinct species like mastodons, dodos, or the Shasta ground sloth is rapidly becoming more of a question of should, rather than how. The latter isn’t straightforward, and involves the integration of a number of cutting edge disciplines, but I’d like to focus on the former: should we clone woolly mammoths?

A growing problem I’ve had (and one which Brian Switek raises in a recent post at National Geographic) is that the de-extinction proposals are Big Ideas, but they they’re often shallow when it comes to ecology. Even the concept of “de-extinction” itself is misleading. Successfully cloning an animal is one thing; rescuing it from the black hole-like pull of extinction is another. Decades of conservation biology research has tried to determine the careful calculus of how many individuals and how much land are needed for a species to survive without major intervention, accounting for its needs for food, habitat, and other resources.

Mammoths have been extinct on continents for over ten thousand years (though dwarf versions survived into the time of the ancient Egyptians on isolated Arctic islands). Even so, the fossil record has yielded rich clues about ecology. All ethical considerations aside, from a conservation biology standpoint, what does it mean to be a mammoth?

Skull of a Columbian mammoth at the Hot Springs Mammoth Site. Photo by Robert Geier

Skull of a Columbian mammoth at the Hot Springs Mammoth Site. Photo by Robert Geier

The woolly mammoth is the ice age species with the best-preserved specimens, and it was the first to have its genome sequenced (though the Neanderthals followed in 2010). As far as de-extinction efforts go, it’s likely to be one of the first successful cloning efforts.

However, not all mammoths were woolly tundra-dwellers; in North America, mammoth remains have been found at elevations ranging from sea level to the mountains of the Colorado Plateau, and from Canada to central Mexico. The largest of these, the Columbian mammoth, dwelled in savannas and grasslands like African elephants today, and the smallest—Pygmy Mammoths—lived on the isolated Channel Islands off the California coast.

While knowing their habitat alone is useful in terms of identifying potential cloned mammoth reserves, we do in fact know quite a lot about what mammoths ate. Based on plant materials found in fossilized dung, the contents of permafrost-preserved stomachs, and isotopes in teeth enamel, we know that most mammoths were grazers, preferring grasses and herbs to woody trees and shrubs.

In this way, mammoths were similar to modern African elephants, though evolutionarily they’re more closely related to the forest-dwelling Asian elephants. Unlike horses and camels, which evolved in North America, mammoths were relatively recent comers, arriving around 1.7 million years ago via the same land bridge that the first humans would later take during the last ice age.

Mammoths likely had elaborate social systems similar to modern elephants, and are thought to have lived in groups of up to twenty individuals. Woolly mammoths males had musth glands, which are important in modern elephant reproduction today. Groupings of mammoth bones at sites where multiple individuals died together show extended family structures. Preserved mammoth tracks show extended families walking side-by-side, as well as a decline in juveniles that indicate populations were in decline due to human hunting.

Just like modern elephants today, these groups were all females, and so it’s likely that mammoths were also matriarchal. Groups of females would typically stay together, and males would have been kicked out of the herd and left to fend for themselves when they reached adolescence.

How could we possibly know this? The fossil record shows that mammoth tusks grew rings—just a like a tree, except mammoth tusks can record weeks or even days in a mammoth’s life. From the width of rings and their isotopic makeup, we know that mammoth mothers nursed their young for two or three years. In teenage males, the growth rings in the tusks become suddenly narrow, indicating that the male suddenly had to fend for itself (the equivalent of going from your parents’ home-cooked meals to the macaroni and cheese and ramen diets of your first apartment).

Not all teenaged mammoths survived this dangerous period of isolation; at the Hot Springs Mammoth Site, paleontologists have uncovered a number of single, adolescent male skeletons that fell in the sinkhole and perished, one after the other through time. Broken tusks also reveal that, just like modern elephants, mammoth males fought for mates—there’s even a pair of male skeletons locked in eternal combat, unable to disentangle themselves.

Modern elephants have elaborate communication systems involving touch, sight, chemistry, and sound (including infrasonic and seismic communication across long distances). While fossils cannot recapture the sound of a mammoth’s trumpet call, but we do know from modifications in their hyoid bones, tongue, and voice box that they would have been capable of low frequency communication, too.

The mammoth steppe is just as extinct as its namesake, due to a combination of climate change and the loss of those megaherbivores that were likely “keystones,”  ecological engineers of their own habitats. Assuming that parts of modern Siberia or boreal Canada would do, how much land would a woolly mammoth need? The science on this is much less clear. By matching the isotopes in tooth enamel with the isotopes in soils, we know that some species of mammoths and mastodons roamed as much as 500 km a year, perhaps migrating to track their habitats.

A modern elephant family group. Woolly mammoths are thought to have lived in extended family groups like this.

A modern elephant family group. Woolly mammoths are thought to have lived in extended family groups like this.

Calculating the carrying capacity of a mammoth herd is not trivial (trust me—I’m working on it!), and involves a careful consideration of how much forage mammoths would need to consume (modern elephants eat as much as 440 pounds a day), proximity to water (modern elephants drink around 60 gallons daily), and the complex interaction between animals, plants, and the changing climates they experienced as their populations dwindled. Once we know how much land a mammoth herd needs, it’s another matter entirely to determine how many of those herds are necessary to maintain viable populations of woolly mammoths in the wild. Whatever that number may ultimately be, it’s worth pointing out that 14,000 years ago, it only took small bands of spear-wielding humans and a backdrop of changing climates to push mammoths and other ice age megafauna over the brink.

When we think of cloning woolly mammoths, it’s easy to picture a rolling tundra landscape, the charismatic hulking beasts grazing lazily amongst arctic wildflowers. But what does cloning a woolly mammoth actually mean? What is a woolly mammoth, really?

Is one lonely calf, raised in captivity and without the context of its herd and environment, really a mammoth? Does it matter that there are no mammoth matriarchs to nurse that calf, to inoculate it with necessary gut bacteria, to teach it how to care for itself, how to speak with other mammoths, where the ancestral migration paths are, and how to avoid sinkholes and find water? Does it matter that the permafrost is melting, and that the mammoth steppe is gone? As much as I love mammoths, the ecologist in me can’t help but answer: no.

These are practical considerations as much as they are as philosophical ones. Human activity is pushing the earth system outside of the natural range of climate variability that mammoths of all species—woolly or otherwise—would have experienced during their evolutionary history. Ironically, much of what we know about mammoth ecology comes from the newly-exposed carcasses uncovered from the melting permafrost.

There are compelling ecological reasons to resurrect extinct species. Some have argued for rewilding to maintain certain habitats or to perform important functions like seed dispersal or fire suppression. As I’ve written previously, many plants live today as ecological anachronisms, out of context with their extinct dispersers. Bringing back the passenger pigeon may be an important part of saving the sand cherry (or even the American chestnut).

Modern elephants greeting one another. Woolly mammoths are thought to have had similar elaborate communication systems.

Modern elephants greeting one another. Woolly mammoths are thought to have had similar elaborate communication systems.

My research on the ecological consequences of the extinctions of mammoths and other megaherbivores in North America indicates that the loss of mammoths during an interval of rapid climate change led to completely novel communities—a period of ecological upheaval that lasted for two thousand years. Work by others suggests that there may have been cascading effects to the biodiversity of small mammals. Modern elephants are keystone species, helping to maintain the African savanna habitat that many other species rely on.

Losing species—especially ecosystem engineers, foundation species, or keystone herbivores, can lead to cascading effects that can be difficult to predict. The reverse is also true; adding herbivores to landscapes changes them. Are we—is society—prepared to accept those changes?

I understand the impetus to resurrect the woolly mammoth—it comes from that same sense of wonder and drive for discovery that led me to be a scientist in the first place. When I watched 10,000 BC, I admit that I wept openly at the sight of CGI mammoths on the big screen. I would be the first person on a plane to Siberia if mammoths showed up in Pleistocene Park. Science needs icons—rallying points that capture the public interest. Cloning a woolly mammoth could be the equivalent of the moonwalk for biology, resurrecting not just an extinct species, but also rekindling a child-like sense of excitement for the natural world (though admittedly, cloning’s public opinion record has tended to be more one of fear and admonition that scientists are “playing God”). And yet, as Hannah Waters rightfully points out, cloning extinct species may actually be more about us humans than the wildlife we care about.

Arguments against de-extinction often center around what we don’t know—particularly when it comes to the long-term collateral effects of our actions. The precautionary principle can be unsatisfying in conservation, because taken to its logical extreme it precludes action of any kind. We often don’t have the luxury of waiting to determine how effective an action will be, especially as we race to save species on the brink of extinction.

In the case of mammoths, however, there need be no sense of urgency. Perhaps the best course of action is to first demonstrate that we can effectively manage living rhinos and elephants before resurrecting their woolly counterparts in a warming, fragmented, overpopulated world.

Ultimately, cloning woolly mammoths doesn’t end in the lab. If the goal really is de-extinction and not merely the scientific equivalent of achievement unlocked!, then bringing back the mammoth means sustained effort, intensive management, and a massive commitment of conservation resources. Our track record on this is not reassuring.

In the meantime, the least we can do is be guided by what we do know about woolly mammoths in their ecological context. Before we talk seriously about de-extinction, let’s apply the lessons of the woolly mammoth to help save species in the face of pre-extinction.

Images: Ice age fauna of northern Spain by Mauricio Antón at Wikimedia Commons; A Mammoth Skull by Robert Geier; Elephants at Amboseli national park against Mount Kilimanjaro by Amoghavarsha at Wikimedia Commons; Three elephant’s curly kisses by jinterwas at Flickr.

Jacquelyn Gill About the Author: Jacquelyn Gill is a Voss Postdoctoral Fellow at Brown University’s Environmental Change Initiative, where she integrates paleoecology, conservation biology, and biogeography to help inform modern ecologists and conservationists about the threats species and communities face today. She blogs at The Contemplative Mammoth, and tweets as @JacquelynGill. If she had one shot at a time machine, she wouldn’t hesitate to jump in and set the dial to North America 20,000 years ago. Follow on Twitter @JacquelynGill.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.






Comments 22 Comments

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  1. 1. dwbd 12:32 pm 03/18/2013

    First step, see if we can successfully resurrect a member of an extinct species. A REAL BIG first step. Then maybe start considering de-extinction in a suitable environment. The latter is dubious, the former, if it can be achieved – a BIG IF, is a No-Brainer as far as I’m concerned. Let’s do it.

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  2. 2. huntershoptaw 1:27 pm 03/18/2013

    Just don’t use frog DNA, we all know how that one turns out.

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  3. 3. SteveO 1:36 pm 03/18/2013

    “Just don’t use frog DNA, we all know how that one turns out.”

    That part of Jurassic Park never made sense to me…why not fill in the missing bits using bird DNA since, at least for the therapods they are far closer relatives than frogs. Maybe alligators for the herbivores?

    But frogs – that is crazy talk…or movie science. Often the same thing.

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  4. 4. Paleoecologist 1:42 pm 03/18/2013

    dwbd, I’d argue that the science should go the other way. Until we can do the latter effectively, the former is pointless, and ethically dubious.

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  5. 5. jduringer 2:24 pm 03/18/2013

    Paleoecologist,

    Assuming you are Dr. Gill:

    I’d predict that the “one up man-ship” and the “achievement unlocked” characteristics of our species will see the cloning happen but very doubtful that political-economics will ever see mammoths de-exctinctified.

    If so, let’s celebrate the science icon when it happens. Ease your doubtful mind. It will make you better at creating the fabricated habitat/social support system that critter will do best in.

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  6. 6. Paleoecologist 2:59 pm 03/18/2013

    Hi jduringer,

    Yes, I am Jacquelyn Gill! I started this account a couple of years ago for commenting, not thinking I might one day comment on my own post!

    The issue that concerns me is that a lot of conservation resources are going into a project that purports to be about de-extinction, i.e., the successful reintroduction of the lost species. That is the context in which I wrote this post, on the heels of the TEDxDeExtinction symposium. The argument in favor of cloning is often that because we have caused the extinction of a species, and we have a moral imperative to bring them back. So, the end goal is not a mammoth calf in a lab, but a mammoth herd in the tundra. To get from point A (cloning) to point B (viable populations) there are many, many other steps. My point in writing this post was to push back on some of the Point A-focused hype and remind everyone that Point B is more critical, ultimately.

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  7. 7. SteveinOG 3:41 pm 03/18/2013

    If you succeeded in cloning mammoths, how long would it be before they were poached for their magnificent ivory? We’re doing a lousy job saving the elephants, no less even more attractive black market targets. If you want to clone something, clone the marvelous dodo, which could be restricted to a prepared, protected island habitat.

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  8. 8. alty53 4:01 pm 03/18/2013

    Dr. Gill states, “My research on the ecological consequences of the extinctions of mammoths and other megaherbivores in North America indicates that the loss of mammoths during an interval of rapid climate change led to completely novel communities—a period of ecological upheaval that lasted for two thousand years. Work by others suggests that there may have been cascading effects to the biodiversity of small mammals.” The ecological web is complex and dynamic. The ecological web that binds together all life on earth today is not the same as it was 2000 years ago or 200,000 years ago. In order to preserve the reintroduced extinct species today may require reintroducing all or most or some of the concomitant species from that time. And that may have a cascade effect tearing up the present ecological web resulting in accelerating the extinction of present day species. But I am just speculating.

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  9. 9. Noone 4:33 pm 03/18/2013

    Can’t agree. We are far too fixated on “preserving the present”, when the present biota itself is largely a construct of added plant and animal species that were invasive 10 years ago, 100 years ago, 10000 years ago, etc., minus those species that were then locally extirpated. It’s absurd to think that 200,000 years ago there were 8 foot tall grasses in the Great Prairie uneaten down by something. Perhaps the variety of horse species that were wiped out by some…one? There is no inherent morality in saving the present, while getting rid of all recent invasives, leaving in place all invasives more than 500 years old, and not replacing local extirpations.

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  10. 10. littleredtop 5:02 pm 03/18/2013

    Cloning the woolly mammoth is an idea which will soon be accomplished and then rapidly followed by the cloning of many other extinct creatures including early man. Many people are hoping that appropriately preserved genetic material from the recently extinct Tasmanian tiger will soon be found, also for cloning purposes. There’s a rapidly growing interest, here in the US as well as in Mexico, in cross breeding the Tasmanian tiger with the pit bull. As a matter of fact, it’s commonly believed that a great deal of cartel money has already been spent searching Tasmania for a living example of that thylacine. Even though it’s highly unlikely that a cross between a marsupial and a dog will be possible, a lot of money and science will be poured into that project. If by some slim chance it can be accomplished, the resulting creature will be in high demand and carry a very hefty price tag.

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  11. 11. jgrosay 6:34 pm 03/18/2013

    If somebody said mtDNA from Big Foot is human, this means they have some genetic material from this species; even when nobody (officially) ever even attempted to clone a human being, and it’s probably forbidden all over the world (this is the right way for this), a theoretical possibility exists of cloning a Big Foot on an human Oocyte with the human nucleus taken away. Comments on ethics, feasibility and possible results of this reckless cloning welcome.

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  12. 12. Leroy 7:21 pm 03/18/2013

    De-extinction might be a worthy goal if it serves some purpose in terms of ecosystem restoration. Say you want to restore some native wetlands habitat and a recently extinct species of frog was serving an essential function of maintaining balance in that ecosystem… then you conceivably could clone thousands of them and improve your results.

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  13. 13. RSchmidt 7:58 pm 03/18/2013

    @Leroy, I read a paper decades ago that claimed that a certain Palm Tree was going extinct because it relied on the Dodo Bird to consume its seeds and then spread them around. So there may in fact be sound ecological grounds to de-extinct species. But at this point how many examples do we have of efforts to significantly re-wild any ecosystem? With increasing demands for food and living space I’m afraid that thousands of species will go extinct before we de-extinct even one, and the ones we do restore will end up in a zoo.

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  14. 14. Postman1 8:00 pm 03/18/2013

    Paleoecologist Well written, timely, and Very interesting! Thanks for a great, thought provoking, read. I’m certain cloning will happen and possibly de-extinction, but we do need to think about the results and decide before hand when to pull the plug.

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  15. 15. dwbd 8:02 pm 03/18/2013

    @ Paleoecologist. People are exaggerating the impact and importance of cloning extinct animals. If you think that is ethically dubious, we are already cloning some rich person’s dog & cat, undoubtedly human cloning will happen, if it isn’t already, and you can be pretty damn sure some super-rich $billionaire or rogue state will be funding all kinds of genetically modified super-creatures.

    Scientifically accurate cloning of an extinct species, including hominids would be a minor ethical quandary compared to the above – which WILL or ARE HAPPENING.

    I think it would be a great attraction for ZOO/Wildlife Parks to have cloned extinct animals, I would love to see a giant Ground Sloth & a Sabre-Toothed Tiger & even better a T-Rex. And some good scientific research into the history of life on this Earth – can’t beat that. The ethics are going to be long, long compromised once $billionaires start cloning themselves for body parts. The Brave New World – get used to it.

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  16. 16. Paleoecologist 12:07 am 03/19/2013

    dwbd, as I stated in my post, the animals that you advocate cloning (most of which are not scientifically feasible, like the TRex) are not truly those animals out of context. A mammoth in a box isn’t a mammoth. We can learn very little from a cloned mammoth in captivity, alone, that we don’t already know from fossils and inferences from modern elephants (which we’re doing a pretty poor job of conserving, I might add).

    Again: this post is about de-extinction specifically, and the ecology involved. Bringing a species back to stick one or two animals in a zoo is not de-extinction. Additionally, I would argue that putting one or two individuals of a social species like a mammoth in a zoo is inhumane. As it is, baby elephants in captivity have a poor survival rate. If the end goal is just to stick an animal in a zoo and gawk at it, that’s not conservation biology, that’s narcissism (see Hannah Waters’ post).

    As members of the public and the scientific community, we’re at the point where we can be a part of the discussion about cloning, and where our conservation efforts go. The Brave New World you mention isn’t something that merely happens to us. We can choose how it unfolds, which is a large part of the impetus behind my post.

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  17. 17. Happy Hal 12:49 am 03/19/2013

    We can debate this to death, just like the XL Pipeline, but we’ll never know, unless we try.

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  18. 18. Carlyle 8:36 am 03/19/2013

    Paleoecologist
    I thoroughly enjoyed your article. Thank you. There would definitely be fewer ethical considerations in de-extinction of more recently extinct species that still have a natural environment into which they could be reintroduced. Especially those which became extinct as a direct result of human actions. In fact if we have the ability to do so, I feel there is a moral obligation.
    Perhaps a herd of cloned or even separated at birth, cattle that have had no interaction with adults of their species, could be raised in isolation & their behaviour monitored. How much is behaviour instinctive or genetically driven & how much learned behaviour. I expect such studies have already been done?

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  19. 19. e_caroline 5:52 pm 03/20/2013

    For one… it would be interesting to see about using woolly mammoths for timber harvests in the northern latitudes in much the same fashion as Asian elephants are used for it in the tropics.

    Then we get into the real world… and the grandiose hubris we see on the part of people who get it in their head to actually think about doing these things.

    Too many people have watched and read way too much science fiction…. not the least of which is Star Trek… where they actually think they can anticipate the real world results of these kind of activities.

    The simple importation of pet snakes has ended up devastating the Everglades…. using ‘benevolent insects’ to control ‘pests’ have had catastrophic consequences… even such things as digging canals have introduced lampreys into the Great Lakes.

    And now we have climatologists deciding they have it ‘all figured out’ how to control world weather and climate… and paleobiologists dreaming up ways to reintroduce long extinct species.

    We even see the much doubted and very doubtful hypothesis that human hunting killed off the large paleo-mammals touted as a fact. This is no doubt the prejudice of a store-feeding suburbanite against modern hunting polluting her reasoning.

    No…. let us not be thinking seriously of doing this.. and let us de-fund and jail anyone who gets it in their head to give it a try.

    Perhaps they can seek an alternate sentence in a lockdown looney ward instead.

    But either way… let us recognize fools for being dangerous.

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  20. 20. elephant5highway 1:08 am 05/24/2013

    I like it post.

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  21. 21. First Mammoth 11:52 am 05/30/2013

    e_caroline:
    You are right, invasive species are often problematic. A good example is the fox in Australia. But you have to differentiate clearly between small animals, which can´t be controlled or eliminated and large animals, which can easily be reduced or controlled.

    If we want for example, we can get rid of all Mustangs, Australian camels ect within a short time span. But it is impossible to eradicate the fox from Australia even with big efforts. And there is a real threat that the fox is spreading into Tasmania now.

    But when you argue in terms of a potential danger of the woolly mammoth, than argue in specific points, what in fact could theoretically could happen. And don´t argue with completely different examples like snakes and lamprey.

    The mammoth could be also released on Arctic Islands first, to analyze their impact on todays ecosystems.

    Another point is, that the woolly mammoth wouldn´t be an invasive species in the northern Holarctic. In fact an ecosystem with mammoths would be much more diverse. Elephants in Africa boost the diversity of tropical ecosystems. Mammoth could be able to do that in a similar way.

    I would rather say: let us de-fund and jail anyone who destroys endangered wildlife and re-extinction approaches.

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  22. 22. First Mammoth 12:29 pm 05/30/2013

    Thanks for the article but I disagree!

    “Successfully cloning an animal is one thing; rescuing it from the black hole-like pull of extinction is another.”
    True, but the critical step is the first animal. If you have successfully cloned one mammoth, you can obtain living cells and clone it more times until you have a small herd of identical clones. This clone herd can be maintained for a long time until a sexual partner is resurrected as well. Than you can start breeding. To enlarge the gene pool, you can always breed newly resurrected animals into the line. About 5-10 founder mammoths should be enough, since many other species were down to fewer than 10-20 (usually more or less related) animals. Examples are the Indian lion, the European bison, the White Rhino ect.).

    “Is one lonely calf, raised in captivity and without the context of its herd and environment, really a mammoth? Does it matter that there are no mammoth matriarchs to nurse that calf, to inoculate it with necessary gut bacteria, to teach it how to care for itself, how to speak with other mammoths, where the ancestral migration paths are, and how to avoid sinkholes and find water? Does it matter that the permafrost is melting, and that the mammoth steppe is gone? As much as I love mammoths, the ecologist in me can’t help but answer: no”
    The first question I would answer with yes, the second with no. The first European bison, which were released in the forests of Europe after the extinction of the species in the wild, had no mother to show them how to survive in the wild. It is likely, that an elephant is a “good enough” mother for a baby mammoth the provide it with gut bacteria and social skills. The third question I would answer with no, since the mammoth went quite far south sometimes and was even found associated with red deer, a rather temperate species.

    “In the case of mammoths, however, there need be no sense of urgency. Perhaps the best course of action is to first demonstrate that we can effectively manage living rhinos and elephants before resurrecting their woolly counterparts in a warming, fragmented, overpopulated world.”
    Large mammals might be always under threat and we will have to protect also the woolly mammoth from poaching, once it is back. And I think yes there is some sense of urgency. Without humans the mammoth would be most likely still alive. It is in our hands, if we want to share the world with these magnificent creatures. I don´t want to live in a world without tigers and elephants. But actually, I also don´t want to live in a world which lacks the giant of the north, the woolly mammoth. Our live is not only based on rational things and ecological arguments. I think we should preserve the pyramids as well as we should save the Sumatran rhino, the Amur leopard, resurrect the Aurochs, the cave lion, the Tasmanian tiger and the Mammoth. I want to protect the Serengeti and create new wilderness areas in Europe. We might loose some species, which won´t leave even DNA and will be gone forever. We won´t have the money, to bring ack every extinct species. But we should try to bring back at least some ecologically very important and iconic species. It is our world. So we should keep it and resurrect it in a way as great as possible.

    Giant sloth and saber-toothed cats are much more difficult to resurrect than the mammoth, since we have no closely related species, which could be used as foster mothers. In addition it is much harder to obtain good DNA from these species. But should try it, since we are propabaly responsible for their extinction. The T. rex is impossible to resurrect, since DNA survives not for much longer than a few 10.000 years. This is probably good since it was not our fault in this case and its habitat is definitely gone. We can only resurrect species, which are most like gone because of us. And we should do that. In fact, most of the arguments in the article actually question the possibility of generating a sustainable wild population and not on the question, if we should do it or not. Of course there is no point of cloning a single mammoth and than stop the project. But you have to start somewhere Apart from that, your only point is the costs of the project:

    “The issue that concerns me is that a lot of conservation resources are going into a project that purports to be about de-extinction, i.e., the successful reintroduction of the lost species”
    I think the money is wise spend, since the mammoth is a flagship species. In case of success, a Pleistocene park with a mammoth population would be as famous as nowadays Yellowstone. No one could destroy it without causing a public outcry. The whole ecosystem would be protected by the mammoth.

    In our lives, we will never see a wild mammoth. The generation period is too long. But we might see the first calf running around the legs of its naked mother. The mother and the rest of the herd might be wondering about it´s long hair but they would teach the mammoth, how to behave as an elephant (remember: a mammoth is a species of elephant). And our children could see the first mammoths in wild living herds again as our ancestors saw them. Let´s bring them back, so that they can roam the northern steppes again.

    A well preserved mammoth specimen was just found in Siberia. It has been never defrosted apparently and the scientists could even get blood. That bears hope, that we can bring the species back even without complex methods like DNA-Synthesis.

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