It is in principle possible to bring the mammoth back to life, but it wouldn’t be exactly the mammoth eons ago. So says Alexandra van der Geer, a paleontologist at Naturalis. “This is only possible if the animal has become extinct only recently, because its DNA has not been damaged yet. You also need a living animal. In this case, an elephant that looks like a mammoth,” she explains to EditieNL. “That gives you a mongrel and never a mammoth.”
Scientists want to bring the mammoth back to Siberia. Van der Geer thinks doing the research is a good thing, because that way we learn more about genetics. But she thinks abandoning mammoths in Siberia is absurd. “Suppose there will soon be a herd of mammoths roaming around, they are insanely expensive. And if they also had coiled tusks, they would be more famous,” she says. “In Africa, it is already impossible to protect rhinos and elephants, how are they going to do that in Siberia?”
Another objection, according to van der Geer, is climate change. “The mammoth was once extinct for this reason,” she says. “If you put him back in the wild now, he won’t have anything to eat. Shall we start feeding him later?”
Endangered animal species
We can do better to protect the animals that already exist, says Harald Schmidt, head of fauna and flora at Diergaarde Blijdorp. “You can spend the money wisely than creating a half mammoth,” he says. “For example, we invest in research and support projects around the world to help endangered species. We also breed populations of endangered animal species.”
Schmidt hopes to prevent the mammoth history from repeating itself with elephants. “Mammoths became extinct due to climate change, but perhaps also due to the rise of humans,” he says. We are now seeing this also in elephants: the climate is changing and the population is increasing, which means that the living space for elephants is decreasing.”
In Asia, the number of male elephants can be roughly counted on one hand, according to Schmidt. “If it continues like this, they won’t be around in 50 years – or maybe in very limited numbers.”
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