I don't have a subscription to New Scientist magazine, so I am only able to read the introductory text of the 2004 article Copy And Save. That's not a problem, the introduction tells me everything I need to know.
It is 2050 and only 30 cheetahs are left in the world. Tireless efforts to help the animals reproduce in the wild have failed and the species could soon die out.
But there is a lifeline, and it's in the freezer. Scientists turn to thousands of cell samples collected from cheetahs over the years since 2002, and one by one each of these animals is reincarnated with the help of cloning.
Welcome to the future of conservation.
This vision is anything but fantastical. If all else fails — such as habitat preservation or breeding programmes — cloning could be rolled out as a last resort to save a species on the brink of extinction.
The first endangered animal to be cloned was an ox-like beast called a gaur, native to India and parts of Asia, which was born in 2001. A handful of others have followed. Scientists are even getting ...
This vision is anything but fantastical, the New Scientist reporter writes. On the contrary, I think this "vision" is fantastic in every respect if you think about it properly. Copy and save, just as I do on my laptop computer.
This conservation story of the future illustrates a phenomenon I have often touched on here at DOTE, but perhaps never so directly as I will do right now.
- As a few enlightened humans desperately try to save them, the rest of the humans drive animal species toward extinction in the wild through habitat destruction, over-hunting, etc.
- Unable to curb their general destructiveness, humans turn to Heroic Technology (here, cloning) as a substitute for impossible behavioral change.
Both of these tendencies, the destructiveness and application of technology, are direct reflections of Human Nature. We will eventually see the same pattern emerge when geo-engineering is applied to fix the climate problem. I hope you appreciate the depth and implications of what I'm saying here. This is what humans do! They can't help themselves (in every sense of that phrase).
Now you know where technological optimism comes from — one simply "overlooks" our destructiveness, which is typical of our species, and focuses exclusively on how clever humans are, which is also typical of our species. It is stunning to think about, this lethal combination of vanity and blindness.
Apparently, the time for cloning of endangered species has arrived. In Brazil, the future of conservation is now.
Other conservation groups have welcomed the plan, but say the priority should always be to preserve species in the wild by minimising hunting and maintaining habitats.
"While cloning is a tool of last resort, it may prove valuable for some species," says Ian Harrison of the Biodiversity Assessment Unit at Conservation International in Arlington, Virginia. "Experimenting with it now, using species that are not at immediate risk of extinction, is important."
None of the targeted animals are critically endangered, but Brazil's agricultural research agency, Embrapa, wants a headstart. Working with the Brasilia Zoological Garden, it has collected around 420 tissue samples, mostly from carcasses.
Within a month, Embrapa hopes to begin cloning the maned wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus), which is classed as "Near Threatened" on the IUCN Red List of endangered species. About 13,000 remain across South America.
As well as jaguars and maned wolves, the researchers hope to clone black lion tamarins (Leontopithecus chrysopygus), bush dogs (Speothos venaticus), coatis, collared anteaters (Tamandua tetradactyla), gray brocket deer (Mazama gouazoupira) and bison.
Yes, the priority should always be preserving species in the wild. On the other hand, in so far as preservation in the wild is eventually a hopeless task, it is important to experiment with cloning now. Why would it be important to experiment with cloning now if you didn't believe you would eventually need it?
Generally speaking, are humans technologically clever? You bet! Are they otherwise terribly destructive and dumb beyond reckoning? You bet!
Do I care whether Homo sapiens thrives and lives on, or goes extinct 'in the wild" over the next few centuries?