It’s called “de-extinction”—the process of bringing extinct species back to life. And it’s plausible enough that in May 2016 The International Union for the Conservation of Nature issued a document outlining guidelines for re-introducing long dead species into the land of the living.
Called “Guiding Principles On Creating Proxies Of Extinct Species For Conservation Benefit,” the document stresses that no animal that could be brought back from extinction via genetic engineering could ever really be that animal as it existed in its original time-period/location. They would only be proxies—”a functional equivalent able to restore ecological functions or processes that might have been lost as the result of the extinction of the original species.”
And while there seems, at least via a cursory look though the document, to be no mention of giant reptiles per se…much of it could be applied to the dilemmas faced in Jurassic Park, if only metaphorically.
The immediate dangers of introducing de-extinct animals into the population include:
- Inflicting havoc on the balance of ecosystems
- Creating new diseases
- Overtaking other animal populations
- Breeding with compatible species to produce completely unexpected offspring
Then there would be the possible ill-effects experienced by the genetically created de-extinct creature, described in the document as “unacceptable suffering by individuals.” This could include physical and psychological abnormalities that could severely curtail the quality of life for the animal.
Lastly, the ability to make de-extinct certain species could alter the public perception regarding animal conservation. If these creatures can simply be rendered “de-extinct”—why worry about conservation? Any time we want an elephant or a giraffe, poof! We just make one, possibly “to order.”
It’s this final point that I think is the most profound, and most likely to shape humanity’s relation to the world. It’s a complete removal from the rhythm and seasons of life.
Look, humanity has screwed things up and a lot of animals are in immediate danger of going away because of us. But extinction is also a part of life, from way before we ever “arrived” on this planet. I think there was a George Carlin routine to this effect, that there is only so much holding back extinction of various species (including humans) that we can do.
In the end, this was the essential hubris of John Hammond in Jurassic Park—the one that Ian Malcolm tried in vain to point out.
“Wouldn’t it be nice to have the dodo make a comeback?” It certainly would. But it’s very likely there would be consequences to that we may never fully anticipate.