The prospect of resurrecting mammoths is back in the news after Harvard geneticist George Church announced last month that he may be only two years away from creating a mammoth-elephant hybrid fetus. That’s still a long way from a living mammoth — let alone herds of the animals — and scientists are skeptical that Church will be successful with even a hybrid fetus. The scientific hurdles that will have to be overcome are huge.
But the problems with de-extinction only start there. If resurrecting an extinct species is successful, scientists couldn’t stop at just one or two animals. They would have to make enough for at least one healthy-sized population. Then they would have to successfully reintroduce the species to the planet, taking care to find a place where the new-again species wouldn’t harm others and where the animals would be mostly safe from whatever drove them extinct in the first place. And those animals would then have to be managed and monitored for years.
All this costs big bucks, and it would divert already limited conservation funds away from species that have yet to go extinct but are badly in need of protection, Joseph Bennett, an ecologist at Carleton University in Ottawa, and colleagues warn in a new study. Whether government or private sources pay for such a reintroduction, other species are bound to suffer.
The financial costs of de-extinction are largely a mystery since no one has actually done it yet. But Bennett and his team wanted to get a handle on how much the reintroduction part of the process might cost — and how this might affect other conservation efforts. They turned to Australia and New Zealand for some examples.
“New Zealand and the Australian state of New South Wales are somewhat unique in the world in that they have very detailed prescriptions for all…