Pleistocene Megafauna Rewilding

Would you be for, against, or indifferent either way or the other of reintroducing the extinct Pleistocene Megafauna into the wild in North America?

Some background information: Prior to around 10,000 BC, North America had an even more diverse population of large mammals than Africa does today. Creatures such as the Woolly Mammoth, Mastodon, saber-toothed cat, American lion, short-faced bear, several species of camels and llama, dire wolf, glyptodon (giant armadillo), giant beaver, wild horse, American cheetah, giant condor, giant sloth, etc. roamed the plains, forests, and mountains of North America. At around 10,000 BC, almost all of these large mammals became extinct, leaving only the bison, musk ox, grizzly bear, and polar bear as the remaining (relatively) large mammals. It’s probably a feeling of sentimental nostalgia, but I really would like to live among these animals once again and experience what the ecology of the “original” America was like before all of these amazing creatures were wiped out.

We have the technology to clone these animals, and reintroduce them, perhaps at first into national parks, and then release them into the wild. Would you be for or against this idea (which has been brought up quite a few times, and is going on a small-scale in Russia I believe with the mammoth alone)?

Is it legal for a private organization or person(s) to do this? Would you be for importing African species similar to the American ones that went extinct (i.e. lion, elephant, cheetah, etc.), if cloning extinct animals is either illegal or has too many risks?

Into the wild? It’s been 10000 years. Those niches are well & truely filled.

Now, in some version of wild animal parks, sure, that would be great.

Unrealistic. It takes human intervention for some current species to maintain their populations, and to keep others from going extinct. Introducing other animals would put even more pressure on them.

I can just imagine the lawsuits after a saber-tooth tiger eats Fido or Fifi in some suburban backyard. Not to mention if a mammoth mangled a Mercedes.

Really? Then why hasn’t anyone done it?

No, we don’t. It might theoretically be possible to clone mammoths, since we have reasonably well-preserved frozen mammoth tissue, but it still hasn’t been demonstrated in practice. For the other animals, we don’t even have that. We aren’t anywhere even close to being able to make a clone from fossilized bones even in theory.

The whole environment was different then. For starters, to make this work, you’d also have to reintroduce the whole megaflora environment, along with the global weather patterns, swamplands or whatever, etc. Was some or much of North America semi-tropical steam forest in those days?

I think most of it would have been more of a boreal or temperate forest because of the Ice Age conditions that prevailed at that time. I’m guessing much of the U.S. would have been like Canada.

Is there any word on if mammoth is good eatin’? I could see Ted Turner devoting some of his massive Great Plains fiefdom over to tasty unextinct megafauna to sell at his restaurant chain. I think predators are going to be a harder sell-- a lot of people out in the wide open spaces aren’t particularly happy about the current slew of predators and I have a feeling something like the short-faced bear isn’t going to go over that well.

I’ve always secretly thought they should try to reintroduce cheetahs to North America to keep the deer population down. A healthy whitetail deer can outrun any currently extant predators on the continent-- in prehistoric times their population was limited by habitat, but human changes to the land have allowed them to breed like rats in some places. Cheetahs wouldn’t have any trouble bringing them down though, and supposedly they prefer wild game on the hoof and usually leave domesticated animals and people alone, unlike wolves and cougars.

There’s no standing to sue for predation by the nearly-extinct predators that are being reintroduced in the west (or if a bison squishes your car at Yellowstone), so I don’t know if there’d be any difference with completely-extinct ones (assuming it’s a government agency handling the reintroduction, not just some eccentric billionaire). As it is, there’s private groups that compensate ranchers for livestock losses from wolves and bears in hopes of diffusing some of the political tension over reintroductions, but the government is under no obligation to do so.

Yup. Survival of the fittest. =) It would make the West wild once more, that’s for sure!

Do you think environmentalists would support this idea?

Cloned near mammoths may be very close to reality. Despite the article’s calling what this project is aiming for a mammoth, I am stating near mammoth as the mitochondrial DNA would be a modern Indian elephant.

The technology is there given an adequate frozen sample, it is the same technology used to clone sheep and dogs. OTOH adequate raw material is so far only possibly there for the mammoth.

I doubt it. Most self-described environmentalists aren’t particularly keen on genetic engineering in general. There’s controversy over cloning even being used as a tool to help recovery programs with species with very small numbers of remaining individuals. I have a feeling that prehistoric extinctions fit firmly into the category of “nature taking its course” and so undoing them is definitely forbidden meddling.

There might be more support among more hunting-oriented conservation groups, although they are often all over the place politically when it comes to environmental issues that don’t directly affect their particular quarry of choice. I’d like to pretend the Boone and Crockett Club has secret guidelines for scoring trophy mammoth locked away and ready to go just in case, though. :slight_smile:

(In a slight IMHO/GD tangent, I do think that the current level of opposition to genetic engineering by environmentalists isn’t necessarily something that’s going to be permanent, and if it does prove to be a valuable tool in rehabilitating endangered species that might help “normalize” it for some people)

I’d be against it, but I’d love to see them ranched-raised for meat.

How necessary are pristine samples nowadays? What with all the complete sequencing of this and that animal becoming more commonplace, it seems to me that even a partial DNA sample might soon be enough to recreate the rest of the chain with some computer work, and from there it’s just engineering. Am I wrong?

I vote for letting them all loose in Canada. This being the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, it is officially grudge year. They burned the White House fer chrissakes. I doubt they would even notice that there were dire wolves and cave bears wandering around eating citizens. They might notice the Mastodons.

10 000 years old bones aren’t fossilized (or at least not all of them). DNA can be extracted from those bones. It’s seriously degraded DNA but still. Maybe in the future, it will be possible to “reconstruct” a complete DNA using fragments extracted from various individuals. It doesn’t seem completely out there to me.

And to answer the OP, yes, that would be fine in a confined park. In the wild, it doesn’t make sense since a new ecological equilibrium has appeared after the megafauna went extinct.

Note that nobody tries to reintroduce even still existing species that have disapeared from an area more recently. We don’t envision to release lions and bisons, for instance, in western Europe. Reintroducing wolves or bears (or allowing them to come back) is done in countries where they went extinct recently (say, the last century or so). But no such thing is attempted in tyhe UK where they disapeared many centuries ago.

Yes, we could call it Pleistocene Park, sell tickets, make a movie about the animals getting out of control, etc.

It turns out that someone is already doing Pleistocene Park in Siberia (a fact which I just discovered by googling on that name). They seem to have the advantage in that many species still exist, although they are also talking about cloning mammoths and woolly rhinos.

Wolves have been reintroduced in parts of western US where they’d been wiped out several decades ago.

Short answer, yes. It’s the differences between extinct and modern species that are interesting. Copying and pasting erases those differences.

It is, of course, more complicated than that.

A little too concise for me – huh? If you had a couple of different partial DNA samples of an extinct species, why couldn’t you assemble an approximation of the original string?

ETA: especially if you had some living near relative like a modern sloth, bear or tiger as sort of a template on top of which you can do your mixing & matching.

Moved from General Questions to Great Debates.

samclem, Moderator