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Bring Back The Mammoth?

Posted by: Loren Coleman on November 26th, 2008

DNA scientists have sequenced 70% of the mammoth’s genome. Photo: Stephen Schuster

It sounds like we are getting closer to cloning a mammoth.

Do you think the mammoth should be cloned and brought back to life?


“I think it’s impossible basically,” said Dr. Austin, deputy director of the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA. “And even if you did bring back mammoths, there’s nowhere … they could live.”


Apparently, Austin is badly out-of-the-loop, regarding the rather detailed talk of creating just such habitats for mammoths and more.


Should Paleo-Parks full of Pleistocene animals, with some cloned animals, exist?


Should some be retro-recovered through breeding, and some attractive Pleistocene survivors, depending on the location, species like musk oxen, pronghorns, wisents, and saigas, be brought together?


Should such parks be opened as active conservation reservations, for tourists and scientists?


Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

60 Responses to “Bring Back The Mammoth?”

  1. Cryptoraptor responds:

    I’m all for Pleistocene Parks.

    “Should such parks be opened as active conservation reservations, for tourists and scientists?”

    Sure, humans are curious. As long as there’s no danger, why not? There will be ”intelligent” arguments on both sides but scientists and investors will eventually make it happen regardless of well phrased opinions by scribes.

    Slightly off topic…has there ever been a stone age cave painting, sculpture, or ANY type of first hand artistic representation of a Smilodon, otherwise known as a Saber Tooth Tiger? I know there are cave paintings of lions.

  2. RyanWinters86 responds:

    Very interesting concept, however, Dr. Austin says, Where would it live. I dont think it would be right to clone something that cant live in the wild… If there is a place where they could roam free in the wild, possibly the Arctic, then I am all for the idea.

  3. drjon responds:

    Seventy percentage of the mammoth’s genome has been sequenced. What would you suggest be done next?

    The other 30%? ;}P>

  4. Dj Plasmic Nebula responds:

    NO, they should not clone anything; here’s my reason:

    Cloning isn’t the real Mammoth.

    Well, I said it.

  5. korollocke responds:

    Bring it on!

  6. shumway10973 responds:

    They only have 70%? How are they going to fill in the rest? I know we have the elephant to help guide us, but in that 30% such things as the tusks and excessive hair, not to mention the hump at their shoulders, the things that make a mammoth a mammoth. Although, I wonder how they would feel to “successfully” (to the best of our knowledge) clone a mammoth and then for a group to be discovered, only to find out that the process was completely wrong? All in all, I’m not for cloning. There are some things that should not be tampered with. History proves that human tampering always leads to major unbalance in nature, resulting with something going extinct and something else’s population exploding off the charts. As far as living…has he looked at a map lately?! America as Alaska, not to mention the whole of northern Canada and Asia has the eastern half of Russia (Siberia). All these places have extreme people and animals living there. I do believe these are the places where the poor hairy critters would at least be comfortable. I hope the eating instinct (mostly the what and how in those climates) aren’t apart of the missing 30%.

  7. DWA responds:

    Of all the crazy things our species has done just because it could do them, here we are talking about one of the noblest – an effort to restore what was, something that considerable learned opinion pins on our species as a key perp in the disappearance.

    As korollocke says: bring it on.

    There are places on this planet for the Pleistocene fauna; it is one of man’s typically myopic conceits, Dr. Austin, that there aren’t. (God scientists sound dumb when they stray off the reservation. Those degrees are dangerous there, kids; careful how you use them.)

    One thing we would have to do is stay our destructive hand to ensure that the habitat remains available. Show me the downside there.

    A clone of a mammoth isn’t a mammoth. Just like a western elk isn’t an eastern elk.

    Time, however, will make it one.

    I’m for anything that gives nature a chance. Let’s go, whenever we can.

  8. Ferret responds:

    I think the idea is interesting, however, we’ll need to be very careful about monitoring their effects on the established ecology of wherever they’re introduced. The addition of an alien, particularly an invasive, species can be devastating to an ecosystem and seriously threaten native species. I feel it would be atrocious act if we should lose biodiversity in out attempt to increase it. But if the spread of the mammoth can be controlled and it’s effect on the environment monitored and predicted I feel this could be a fascinating idea, but, what will this mean for evolution and natural selection? Will our ability to undo extinction throw natural selection out of balance, will evolution cease? Only one way to find out I suppose, but I hope these questions have been addressed by the scientists running the project.

  9. Hatch responds:

    They wouldn’t be able to make just one. It would be so expensive to make a breeding population but if they charged admission they could make at least some of the money back if not all. If they do that though, where would it stop? Sounds like a Jurassic Park sequel.

  10. graybear responds:

    In order to have anything other than a Pleistocene petting zoo, you’d have to clone and release into your preserve the predators of that era. And predators notoriously refuse to stay where people want them to stay, especially if there is easier prey somewhere else. if you think wolves, bears and cougars in close contact with humans due to habitat shrinkage are bad, wait until you’ve got cave bears, dire wolves, saber tooth cats and American lions gobbling up joggers and someone’s little purse puppy. Add to this the fact that these little cuddlies would have been put there by someone who entire legions of attorneys could make lifelong incomes by suing each week (imagine the mental trauma of seeing your girl scout troop eaten by an eight hundred pound saber tooth cat…neverending therapy needed there). And please don’t tell me that the preserve could be made escape-proof; not unless you built a Kong sized wall and moat system around North Dakota or wherever. Creatures would escape, guaranteed. Then they’d be hungry from all that exertion. Then there would be regrettable incidences. No question.
    However, if you are talking about a zoo, then go ahead. It might actually educate someone.

  11. Sparky1959 responds:

    I am all for the Pleistocene park. I think Disney could bank roll it and charge admission. Use all the Pleistocene era animals still availble. Clone what ever we can clone, and the fill out the park with a combination of live animals wearing prostetics and some robotic recreations. The Geico cave men could be the tour guides.

  12. spellauk responds:

    hmm,70%.untill they have 100% its not gonna be a mammoth,just a man made huge freak wandering around with no natural predators and none of its natural food stuff.For all we know they could have relied on a certain type of plant that no longer exists.Any one know what happened in australia when the cute lil bunny was introduced??They are tiny in comparison,but look at the damage they have caused.thats just one example of our playing god.
    Mammoths are gone,and gone for a reason.the same as a lot of the other flora and fauna that has existed on earth,the same as we will be one day.
    If they HAVE to play god,then they need specific places for these beasts to be gawped at and not released into the wild!!Not unless they are going to resurect early man and neanderthals,sabre toothed cats ect!in fact,they would need to create an entire eco system,one we no very little about.It would be easier for them to find another planet that could sustain life,then travel there and experiment there!!who said impossible!??!

    one question..why do we NEED mammoths?

  13. Crypto-Enthused responds:

    I think it’s an interesting idea but an extravagant misuse of the technology and knowledge. As humans we have proven time and time again that we let our technology and greed outpace our common sense. We never truly analyze the impact our actions are going to have before we take them. Before we try to bring back a species that has been extinct for millions of years let us try to co-exist with the hundreds of species that are going extinct every year, some do to our actions or inactions. We have a great deal left to learn about ourselves and our habitat before we start playing creator. I personally am not a religious person, so I can’t be bothered with the arguments on both sides for spontaneous creation (big bang theory) or for the creation myths of a Supreme Being and divine intervention. My opinion is this.

    1. We are here. I will leave it to greater minds than mine to figure out how.

    2. We have finite resources. Let us not continue to greedily use them up or poison them.

    3. We are a fragile species with a set amount of time on this rock (or grand experiment).

    If we have to use cloning then let us try to develop it to replace failing organs, amputated limbs and brain-damaged politicians.

  14. Daryl Colyer responds:

    What DWA said, down to the periods, commas, dashes, colons and semi-colons. Jump on it.

    No place for them to live???

    Is that guy even on the same planet as the rest of us? Has he stepped outside his bubble lately?

    Alaska anyone? Western Canada anybody?

    Oh, and here’s something else to ponder: cloning the Gigantopithecus.

    Of course, a whole list of things would need to happen to make such a thing even possible, and such thinking could be aptly classified as pie-in-the-sky thinking, but hey, while we’re dreaming, we may as well dream big.

  15. Dj Plasmic Nebula responds:

    LET’S explore Alaska, Russia, And anyother place, to find Mammoths instead

  16. jayman responds:

    I say go for it. The wooly mammoth was closely related to the Asian elephant, which could be used for any “missing” genetic material, as well as being the surrogate mother.
    Then, on to the Neanderthal.

  17. red_pill_junkie responds:

    The problem with the idea is the # of animals intended to be cloned. If we’re talking of merely 1, then it is a problem because elephants are social animals; a lonely mammoth would have a rather miserable life, but what if we threw a few elephants to keep it company? would it be able to integrate with its ‘cousins’? And if so, how would the elephants cope in a climate more suitable for their hirsute relative?

    So maybe you could clone a whole bunch of them. Say 10 or 20. But there’s also the problem of socialization and hierarchy education. Elephants are very much like us, they need the guidance of their parents and elders to teach them good social manners; so it’s very probable that a little heard of rogue juvenile mammoths could be very difficult to handle.

    So the idea of cloning the animal just for the thrill of seeing an elephant covered with hair is unappealing to me. But if we could somehow solve all the hurdles and problems in order to get this engineered creatures to live a healthy live in a natural ecosystem, then I’m all for it, too. Geologically speaking it still makes sense, because the length of time these animals have been extinct is negligible compared to the number of years they roamed the planet and contributed to the biodiversity of ecosystems.

    Science shouldn’t mind the meaning of the word ‘Impossible’. But it should mind the meaning of the word ‘restraint’.

  18. DWA responds:

    A couple more comments.

    spellauk: why do we need mammoths? We don’t. We also don’t need: cathedrals, shoot, religion; cellphones; airplanes; beer and wine; the Internet (hi, there!); and most of the world’s population. (No. I’m not advocating anything.) This isn’t about need. (Although, when you see what civilized man is compared to what could be: maybe it is.)

    Those who have talked about Potential Regrettable Incidents: life is a risk. Sure you can ask me, what if that’s your daughter getting snacked on? All I will reply is: I am glad that my whims and desires do not set public policy. I’m not up for the responsibility. We have done one heck of a lot of harvesting (including much of the Pleistocene megafauna). Isn’t allowing the possibility of a little turnaround harvesting cosmic fair play? Ya betcha.

    When a chance is given to restore what was taken, how could it not be the right thing to do? I’d take the chance; and my betting is that a lot more people would than many of us think. Just look at predator reintroduction and preservation programs; and yes, this is the same thing. Any distinction you might perceive is a quibble only.

  19. Ceroill responds:

    Count me in with the cautiously enthusiastic side. It’s a very exciting possibility, but I think at this moment I’m with red pill junkie, wondering about the advisability of recreating just a single mammoth. As I said, very exciting, quite fascinating, but if we’re going to do it, let’s figure out how to do one of each gender at least.

    What would be the ideal place to put them? Release them into the Yukon somewhere, and see if they can make it? Put them in a special ‘habitat’ at a major zoo?

    Also, as to ‘reintroducing, does the time they’ve been out of the ecosystem mean it would be more like bringing in an invading species, rather than reintroducing one that’s had a hiatus of a few decades or even a couple of centuries?

    Fascinating, but I think it needs more study first.

  20. cryptidsrus responds:

    I agree wholeheartedly with DWA.
    I have a suggestion:
    How about Alaska??? Siberia, maybe???? Extreme Northern Canada???
    Fill up the 30% with elephant DNA. I’d rather have a near-replica than nothing at all. Do it for the memory of Michael Crichton!!! (RIP).

  21. ARO responds:

    You take things way to seriously DWA. just sayin

  22. coelacanth1938 responds:

    Considering that we humans have done everything we can to to damage this Earth, it might be nice, and maybe wise, to put something back.

  23. PhotoExpert responds:

    I’m inclined to say, leave it be.

    Did anyone see Jurrasic Park, the movie? LOL

    They do not have the complete genome. If they replaced the missing genome sequence, is it really a mammoth or some man made creature? How do you control breeding? I assume with predators or hunting.

    I think the lesson here is that mammoths went extinct to the best of our knowledge. We should use that knowledge of the reasons for extinction, to try and preserve the species that are present today. The mammoth should be an example for man to nurture nature.

    That’s it!

  24. DWA responds:

    ARO says:

    “You take things way to seriously DWA. just sayin”

    1. Serious peepul can spel.

    2. Why do you come here again? Look around this thread. I think it’s pretty obvious I’m on the side of the folks who wanna have a little FUN here.

    First post, dude? Welkum!

  25. wisaaka responds:

    whats it matter, only children can see Snuffleupagus, not adults. It would be a great deal of fun for the children but really just a big waste of time for the adults. Now on to my actual opinion:

    From what I understand, Russain scientists have been wanting to do this for years (30+). I dont think it matters if we ask should it be done, its fairly obvious cloning a mammoth will be done when (and if) it can be done.
    My opinion however, is that it is a stupid thing to do. We (all the humans, not just the esteemed contributors and readers of CryptoMundo) should be concerned about keeping alive the current animals on the planet and inturn helping our enviroment that some of us destroy every chance we get, and not spending any of our energy (and money) on flights of scientific vanity.

    Having said that, when its done (an I think we all know someone is going to try to do it) I hope the cloners have the good sense enough to do indeed call it Snuffleupagus.

  26. Richard888 responds:

    Bring it back!

    Counter arguments can be easily dealt with:

    1) Effects to the established environment will be more containable than those by Monsanto.

    2) Why does cloning spook some people and is considered against God’s will but extinction doesn’t and isn’t?

    3) If Mammoth is successful then many other recently extinct animal species can be brought back also. I’m hoping there is a university somewhere with a vast DNA library where the genetic code of everything from the Passenger Pigeon to the Thylacine is stored.

  27. mystery_man responds:

    It’s an interesting concept, and I’ve long been interested in the reintroduction of extinct species to their previous habitats. I’m not against it at all, but I think this is something best not rushed into in this case.

    Ceroill touched on it briefly, so I will elaborate.

    This is not the exactly the same as reintroducing an animal that has gone extinct in historical times.

    I think the biggest problems are not space (plenty), or where they would live (lots of places), or even the cost of making the clones to begin with (this will get cheaper and more precise as time goes on). What needs to be seriously considered before beginning any project of this kind is that we simply cannot assume that the ecosystem and the communities of animals within it are functionally the same as they were 10,000 years ago during the Pleistocene. This is enough time for some of the ecosystems in North America to have evolved in the absence of Pleistocene megafauna, possibly in ways that we do not yet fully understand. Ecology is complex, and there is a lot we don’t know.

    North American habitats have moved on without the mammoths, they have changed, and introducing these animals could possibly have unforseen effects or cause problems for the extant animal communities and ecosystems. What you could essentially be doing by dropping in these extinct prehistoric animals into modern habitats that have evolved without them is introducing an exotic, invasive species. Sure the mammoth is originally from there, and it is separated by time rather than geography, but it is the exact same end result, a habitat that has adapted without the animal in question.

    What effect would these animals have on the delicate balance that exists in communities where these mammoths would be introduced? This is a key question that I do not feel we can definitively answer. I work with introduced species, and I know how they can have completely surprising effects on the ecology, it is often too complex to accurately predict. Even species closely related to a native species can cause problems, so the effect of mammoths on an environment that has had no wild populations of elephant like creatures in thousands of years could be dramatic. Some might try to argue that 10,000 years is a geological blink of an eye, and they’d be right. But ecosystems can be different, species evolve and go extinct in that amount of time. If the dynamics of the ecology have changed even just a little bit in the amount of time that has passed, introducing a long extinct animal could potentially have devastating effects. Sure, it could be just fine, everything might be smooth, but that is what we have to try to understand to the best of our ability.

    I’m not saying the reintroduction of mammoths is a bad idea at all. In many ways it could be a good thing and certainly it’s an exciting prospect. I’m just saying that more research and ecological studies of the target area would need to be done to understand the possible dynamics and/or consequences of doing so. This is something that has to be studied, checked, checked again, and done in a cautious controlled manner. Perhaps there could be a reserve (like the proposed Russian Pleistocene Park) set aside and based on the success there, the range of the animals could be gradually expanded. In addition, there have to be management plans in effect to deal with any problems that arise.

    I just can’t agree with the “Let’s do it” notion. Caution is the word of the day. This is not something to be rushed into no matter how much we feel we owe it to nature to undo the damage we have done, and no matter how cool it would be to see herds of mammoths again (which is “really”). This is something to be approached with care, patience, and scientific analysis.

    If not, we could possibly be doing more harm than good. Does anyone really want to rush in and take that chance?

  28. Mnynames responds:

    It’s late, and I wish I could remember more details, but I remember watching a program that stated that there were plants in North America that evolved to have mammoths as their main method of seed dispersal that still exist and produce fruit, pointlessly awaiting animals that will never come. Other scrub brush grows so abundantly on the plains because they evolved to withstand the constant grazing of the great beasts that long ago stopped feeding on them. Perhaps these plants will not be waiting in vain much longer.

    Several scientists have recommended establishing colonies of Elephants, Lions, and other African fauna in the Great Plains for the dual purpose of preserving those species and restoring the ecosystem to the diversity it once had. How much better would it be to bring back something even closer to what was lost?

    Seriously, the habitats of the mammoths still exist in many parts of the world, largely unchanged. One can easily make the claim that the disappearance of this animal is recent enough that these habitats have yet to fully recover from that loss.

    Perhaps a return is in order.

  29. hideousmonster responds:

    I say we bring back every extinct animal and plant that we can. The awesomeness of it would outweigh all risks.

  30. Cryptomundo55 responds:

    I don’t care what anybody says,I want a mammoth to exist but if they find another piece of DNA to make another one that is the different sex so the species can be returned to the earth.

  31. mystery_man responds:

    Well, as Mnynames said, there are plants that remain unchanged. Many of these Pleistocene habitats could very well remain largely unchanged, and could even benefit from these reintroductions in some ways, but that still ignores the reality that we do not know everything about precisely how Pleistocene ecosystems functioned, nor the extent to which North American ecosystems and communities have evolved in the past 13,000 years. Things are more complex than that. Remember that even small changes could have a profound effect.

    The plants mentioned, for example, are only a small part of the bigger picture. Plant communities can be dynamic and constantly in flux. While some plants may remain unchanged, grassland and shrub-steppe habitats have had over 13,000 years to evolve both genotypically and phenotypically in the absence of the full range of Pleistocene mega-herbivores. It is hard to say for sure what effect reintroducing the mammoth would have on these systems which have continued to evolve over thousands of years in their absence. Even subtle shifts are a big deal when we are talking about reintroducing a long extinct animal.

    Other problems could potentially present themselves too. What about the animals that may have adapted somehow to take advantage of the absence of these mega-herbivores? The ecosystem could be disrupted in subtle ways, which could lead to bigger problems in the long run. There is little we can do to precisely predict the effects at this point without more study.

    Reintroduced animals can also act in ways different than was originally predicted. What if these mammoths decide they would prefer to feed on other, possibly rare plant species rather than the plants they originally ate? This is a very real possibility and the same kind of situation has happened before. This sort of thing has happened even with reintroduced predators from historic times. For example, wolves reintroduced to Yellowstone were found to have a taste for elk rather than the other ungulates they were predicted to eat. I don’t think we are at the point where we can say that this is not a possibility with the mammoth and plant life.

    The ecosystems of historical times could be altered in novel ways, not only with regards to the plant life but in other ways as well. For example new parasites could gain a foothold, diseases could pop up, and the food chain could be altered. There is no way to know the level of disruption since we don’t know the exact functionality of the Pleistocene ecosystems and how it fits in with the ecosystems of today. No matter how unchanged we may think they are, it is unknown what all the effects could be of such reintroductions on evolutionary lineages and the biological communities of today.

    Like I said, I am not completely opposed to the idea. Reintroduction of the mammoth could possibly have a lot of benefits, that is true. In many ways, the effects could be beneficial. Reintroduction of Pleistocene predators in particular could have a positive influence on prey species. However, I feel it must be remembered that rather than restoring the ecosystems of North America to their Pleistocene levels, reintroductions could go the other way as well. These proposed reintroductions could result in unique compositions of species and an ecosystem with an altered level of functioning.

    I advocate a cautious approach, with more studies in this area before any concerted attempt is made to try and restore Pleistocene ecosystems. As I said before, doing something like Russia’s Pleistocene Park, on a small, experimental scale at first is a good idea. Even this is going to take a massive amount of time, funds, and effort to adequately test.

    In some ways I think the time and money might be better spent on restoring historic habitats and ecosystems, but if it turns out that a return to Pleistocene functioning is not only feasible, but beneficial, then I’d be all for it.

  32. mystery_man responds:

    I also thought I should mention that it must also be considered that even in cases of restoring extant endangered species to their historic ranges, success is not necessarily guaranteed. The outcome of such introductions can sometimes hold unanticipated developments, such as diseases and slight differences in the composition of species in the new ranges.

    An example is the attempts to repopulate the endangered Grevy’s zebra in some of its former historical ranges. While these reintroductions began successfully, they have not led to an increase in population of the animal, and due to factors I mentioned before, have even seen a decline in numbers in some cases. Here we see that even small changes to the dynamics of the habitat over the space of even a few hundred years can sometimes have an unforeseen negative impact on reintroduction efforts. Any reintroduction plan typically undergoes a large amount of surveys and studies beforehand, and even then there can be surprises.
    As much research as possible needs to be done in advance of these programs to reduce the possibility of these situations.

    Of course many of these historic reintroductions work wonderfully, and I think they are a valid and valuable conservation plan, but it is still important to consider the implications suggested by programs like the Grevy’s zebra reintroduction. If this can happen even with a species in its historic range, imagine the changes in ecosystem dynamics that could effect animals from thousands of years ago. In my opinion, it is something that needs to be carefully considered and investigated before being implemented in any capacity.

    On top of these problems, it should also be remembered that there is very likely going to be public opposition to plans like this as well, both by local people and governments. This happens all the time with conservation efforts of this nature, most often with predator species, but not always. You have to ask yourself how comfortable the general public is going to be with the notion of herds of mammoths roaming about. No matter how remote the location, there are going to be worries about escapes, personal safety, or potential damage to crops. I can’t imagine a plan to reintroduce mammoths or other Pleistocene fauna would not run into any such obstacles. Any plans to reintroduce these animals could have a galvanizing effect on public support and opinion of these conservation measures, which in turn is going to throw up hurtles to their implementation.

    So considering the problems inherit to the effort to successfully reintroduce even historic animals to their native ranges, including logistics, time, effort, economics, ecological considerations, research, and public opinion, one has to consider that these setbacks are going to be exacerbated when dealing with long extinct animals. It may happen, but it will most probably be a long time coming, perhaps not even within our lifetime, and it should be approached with care.

    Reintroducing mammoths is a very cool idea, but not without its share of potential problems and setbacks.

  33. napalmnacey responds:

    Clone the Mammoth and see if it can open doorknobs.

  34. Alligator responds:

    Yes, bring back the mammoths and establish a Pleistocene Park. Then we can have hire Pleistocene porters with looking glass eyes to work in the place.

    Just kidding. I do wager that if they can sequence enough DNS someone or some corporation is going to bankroll this and they will use Asian elephants to finish out any sequencing and carry the fetus. National Geographic recently had a TV episode about genetically engineering theropod dinosaurs out of chickens. The way geneticists explained they could do this made sense from a biological standpoint. They would do this very early in the embryonic stage. On the one hand it was amazing stuff, on the other it was kind of frightening. Could we should we do this? I don’t think it matters what we think. When the technology is discovered, someone is going to use it. That is the nature of humans.

  35. yetispaghetti235 responds:

    all the with cloning
    i once was talking with a friend and he said if the mammoths were to be cloned they could be placed in low inhabited areas in Russia
    Maybe we could make a “Jurassic park”/Pleistocene park in the future

  36. kittenz responds:

    Whether it’s wise to clone a mammoth, using an asian elephant female for its surrogate mother, is almost a moot point. As soon as it be done, it be done.

  37. kittenz responds:

    I must have been sleepy when I wrote that last comment! What I meant to say is, as soon as it can be done, it will be done, whether it’s wise or not.

  38. Galea responds:

    does anyone remember a few years ago they placed Mammoth sperm in an asian elephant? A baby was born but only lived less then a year I believe. I could be mistaken but I seem to remember that story

  39. DWA responds:

    M_m (and others):

    Of course, any reintroduction has the caveat: first, do no harm. I just believe that the idea shouldn’t be abandoned because it has risks. Saving lives (ask any firefighter) involves risks. Examine the risks. But don’t kill the project because it has risks.

    I noted a couple of let’s-preserve-what-we-have-first posts. My response to that: people who think boldly are the ones I trust with preserving what we have, and restoring what we SHOULD have. Folks who want to drill blast and chop everything they can for whatever conveniences it can offer tend to throw out the let’s-preserve-what-we-have line as an excuse to cut preservation funding. Not pointing fingers. Just saying why I don’t trust the argument.

    m_m: you seem to imply that wolves weren’t brought to Yellowstone to control elk. They were, very precisely, imported to do just that. Elk were the ungulate in Yellowstone that very badly needed controlling. In fact, the reintroduction of the wolf to Yellowstone has had zero downside – except for elk, of course, and for coyotes, which wolves do not like and of which (like elk) there were too many anyway. The red fox and bobcat – predators that compete poorly with coyotes – have rebounded in the park, because wolves don’t view them as competition. Riparian ecosystems have taken off; not because wolves eat elk so much as because they SCARE them. Elk no longer lounge by river’s edge eating seedlings and mowing herbiage to putting-green level. With the possibility of being cut off by wolves advancing from the woods, they’ve stopped doing that; and the streamside shade that helps all kinds of foundation riparian invertebrates to reproduce and feed native fish – like the ones Yellowstone is famed for offering to fly fishermen – has come back with a vengeance. Wolves are known to have catholic tastes. But they’ve impacted nothing that didn’t need the impacting.

    Of course it isn’t a slam dunk that the mammoth will be the same. But folks were scared of wolves too. Overcoming those objections had to happen; and it did. We shouldn’t let those objections kill any idea like this until the ramifications are thoroughly reviewed and tested.

    And for those who say that this testing is potentially unfair to the mammoth: well, speeding their extinction wasn’t necessarily fair either. Life is messy. Go with it.

  40. dogu4 responds:

    Don’t stop with just the mammoth. The researcher in some of his interveiws suggests that almost any now extinct animal for whom we have remains consisting of hair, hoof or horn, will be a possibility since, in contrast to the old notion of needing actual non-degraded tissue or hair follicles, it’s the actual chiton encased DNA of the fibres that constitute hair and other chitonous tissues. Additionally the technical aspect of these projects being more like a multi-staged reverse engineering endeavor means that science can steer the process, gathering more usefull information along the path.
    Mystery man points wisely out that we wouldn’t know every precise aspect to habitat requirements etc..but let’s not also forget the remarkable plasticity in behaviors, both inate and learned, that have afforded so many long succesfull species such marvelous adaptability. Indeed, the robust adaptability and tenacity, and not the sometimes alluded to fragility, of life that is its hallmark here on earth. Our human structures, now that’s something that can be as fragile as a fine wine, and stain just as stubborn.
    Oh…and FYI…didn’t see it mentioned but some efforts at recreating now extinct animal communities are being undertaken with one prominent one employing the sole remaining species of giant land tortoises in North America (from Mexico) into a range from which it’s been absent for 5 thousand years (I believe this is a private ranch in New Mexico), and there are signs that the habitat is reverting to its previous regime and presumably opening up niches that have been long closed.

  41. mystery_man responds:

    DWA- I wasn’t saying that the wolves weren’t brought in for that purpose, and I didn’t call that wolf introduction a failure. What did indeed happen, according to a paper I read on the subject, is that the wolves ate the elk more, and other ungulates less than was predicted. This is true. I mention this to illustrate that reintroduced animals will not always follow the plan, and these small changes can change the ecosystem and composition of species over time. That was my gist, it was certainly not to slam the Yellowstone project.

    Reintroductions can be successful, there are many examples, I am not disputing that. But you cannot just look at the successes. It is irresponsible. This would ignore the fact that there are also many cases which have not succeeded, some that have been abject failures. If we are to really be cautious about this sort of plan, and approach it scientifically, it is imperative to look at the failures as well in order to ensure these things don’t happen again. Not every plan like this works, is as simple as that, and we often don’t know exactly understand why one did work and an another did not.

    This is a topic of a lot of scientific debate, and I see points made by both sides on whether to resurrect Pleistocene ecosystems, absolutely there are good arguments from all angles. I don’t really think that we are at the point where I can say which side is right and which is wrong. I would encourage further healthy debate in order to guide us towards more of a consensus.

    I do think it would be unwise to rush into anything. I advise caution and I think I made my point about that fairy well above.

  42. mystery_man responds:

    Also remember, I am not saying that any attempt at recreating a Pleistocene ecosystem is doomed to failure. What I am trying to do is point out things that need to be considered and that it is not necessarily a plan guaranteed success or beneficial effects. It is not without its potential problems, and these kinds of plans do not always work out.

    Perhaps I am a little bit pessimistic, but that is maybe just because my own research focuses on the negative impacts of exotic animals and I can tell you it is not always pretty. It is very possible such a plan to reintroduce Pleistocene fauna could be wonderful. I am just trying to illustrate all the angles that need to be looked at, studied, and debated upon.

    I am not generally against the idea, or to reintroductions in general, but I do advise a careful approach to these things. They don’t always work out in the ways you might think.

    If we are going to recreate ecosystems, I tend to be a little more optimistic about the idea of doing it with animals that have disappeared from their historic ranges than I am about long extinct ones. But it COULD work, absolutely.

  43. mystery_man responds:

    DWA- I might also add that in general I am supportive of many predator reintroduction plans, especially in areas with large numbers of herbivores that have gone without any real predators in a long time. I’m mostly behind wolf reintroduction plans, some areas really need it (ahem, Japan, ahem), but it is not guaranteed that we can always predict exactly how they will act or whether they will fulfill certain expectations. They can certainly effect subtle changes on the ecosystem, even if the result is more or less a success.

    I thought I might throw out some other thoughts on ideas for restoration of Pleistocene ecosystems.

    It really isn’t only mammoths. One of the big proposals put forth by proponents of the plan is the idea of translocating a diverse range of fauna across several trophic levels, from places like Africa or Asia, such as camels, lions, equids, and elephants. The reasoning is that these animals will help to restore extinct ecosystems since they are either descendants of extinct North American species or meant to be proxies for extinct species. This is an incredibly bold and potentially devastating proposition. There are several things that I think need consideration here before this is implemented.

    First, this plan entails bringing in exotic animals to fulfill roles in an ecosystem that has in some cases adapted without these sorts of animals for thousands of years. I have already touched on the possible problems with this.

    Second, these species are not always the same as they were during the Pleistocene, meaning they have often changed just as the environment has. For example, some species such as lions and elephants, are clearly genetically distinct from their Pleistocene forebears. So they are genetically distinct species that have evolved on a different continent with different species concentrations and different bio-diversity for 13,000 years. For all intents and purposes they are exotic animals (no matter how much you think they are similar to Pleistocene animals) , posing the same potential problems as any invasive species. There is no guarantee that they are going to fit into the proposed model for the Pleistocene ecosystem in the way that is envisioned and they are not going to be able restore the evolutionary potential of the extinct species they are meant to take over for.

    Third, using exotics as proxy species is controversial. This is similar to my second point above. There is simply no way to know whether they are going to interact in a modern day North American ecosystem in the ways of the Pleistocene animals they are meant to be a substitute for. These animals can act differently than predicted, both in diet and behavior. For example, camels in Australia have caused damage by eating rare desert plants, and in some cases feral horse introductions have led to alteration of vegetation with sometimes negative effects. What’s more, this is compounded by any changes that may have occurred to the environment. Using an exotic species as a proxy for extinct ones is something to be approached with a lot of caution, in my opinion.

    I think this all has to be given some weight. Grassland ecosystems are some of the most threatened, yet least protected areas, so rather than risk losing them, it is worth thinking things through.

    In many ways, I often think bringing back existing indigenous North American animals into their historic habitats is the way to go (although as I said before, even this can hold surprises). I think it is generally a good idea to work with what we have, extant animals that have evolved in North America rather than exotic ones. Bring in animals like wolves, bison, pronghorn, elk, bobcats, mountain lions, black footed ferrets, and many others, back into the areas where they have been driven from in the last few centuries. I think this would do a lot to restore ecological health in areas deficient of these species or animals to fill certain niches, and it would be a safer bet than using cloned extinct animals, or using exotic animals to try and fill in the blanks of what existed in the Pleistocene.

    For example, wolves and other predators I mentioned. Another example is mountain lions. They are a species which survived the Pleistocene extinctions, they are indigenous, and they are genetically more similar to the extinct American cheetah than the African cheetah is. To me it makes more sense to move in pumas into their historical range rather than moving in cheetahs from Africa, which could hold many more unforeseen problems.

    Why bring in exotic species or go through all of the expense and potential problems of cloning mammoths when we can perhaps do just fine with the animals we have after a little re-location? I think it is perhaps possible to rebuild a healthy ecosystem without having to exactly recreate the ways we think things were in the Pleistocene.

    Like I said, I’m not against the proposal, but the things I am bringing up should be considered and talked about without being patly shot down.

  44. mystery_man responds:

    I should make clear that the equid and camel references I made above are meant to illustrate the problems that herbivorous species can cause on plant life when put into a new habitat. Since equids and camels are among the species planned to be brought in for large scale Pleistocene ecosystem restoration projects, I thought it was worth mentioning. they will eat what they eat, no matter what we want them to eat.

    Regardless of ecosystem and biological plasticity, ecosystems and local fauna can be compromised, the level of functioning shifted (sometimes into novel compositions), and concentration of animal assemblages altered (by no means a minor thing), by these bold changes such as importing large amounts of non-indigenous animals. It has happened before and I feel we should be mindful of this.

    Just my two cents and my professional opinion. Sorry if I seem to be taking this so seriously, but it IS serious. I’m just trying to maintain a healthy level of caution and balance amid all of the calls to drive through with plans for Pleistocene restoration projects. They are definitely worth considering, could be amazing ventures, but not necessarily the sure fire cure for the environment that some might make them out to be.

  45. DWA responds:


    Couldn’t agree more, with everything you wrote. Everything.

    It did sound to me as if you were talking about the Yellowstone introduction as an example of something that shouldn’t be done. Sorry if you didn’t mean that; I did want to point out though that there were risks; some of the biggest worries came true…and the reintroduction has been beyond successful, one of the most successful such ever.

    As I have said in my previous posts: charge ahead, science! And I mean CHARGE. With the research that establishes the cost/benefit tradeoff, and only when that has been accepted as worth risking, the actual experiment.

    Don’t toss the idea because it may be “risky.” Life is. Nature is.

    Pleistocene rewilding struck me as a marvelous idea from the second I heard of it. Your cautions are well-taken. Weigh it – weigh anything like it – before doing it.

  46. mystery_man responds:

    DWA- As always, I enjoy these discussions with you. This has been the sort of well informed, thoughtful exchange that needs to be done more on this subject. Thanks for engaging me in talking about this topic.

  47. Ann Unknown responds:

    My vote for rewilding would be a definite “YES”. Though, I don’t think the world can be successfully rewilded, without first rewilding ourselves.

    IMHO, this means that, before we can clone a large extinct species, such as a mammoth, and take on the huge responsibility for its reintroduction, we (first!) need to take on a lot more responsibility for our own selves, and those we bring into this world. Wild, social mammals generally care for their young. In some species, the father’s role becomes as significant as the mother’s as the youngsters grow. Domesticated livestock, generally loses this instinct. Remember this, this season.

  48. Ann Unknown responds:

    By the way, the giant land turtles that dogu4 spoke of, above, are doing fine. The program appears to be an example of a rewilding success.

    They are called Bolson Tortoises.

    So – it can be done. :-)

  49. mystery_man responds:

    The Bolson tortoise is a far cry from cloning extinct mammoths or bringing in exotic fauna to replace the ones that were lost.

    The Bolson tortoise is an indigenous animal that survived the Pleistocene extinctions and has adapted to the changing environment. It was once found throughout the Southwest United States and still survives today in some limited areas in similar habitat in Mexico. So of course, it is a good candidate for reintroduction, and I would expect greater chance of success. Like I said, extant native species are a better bet. It is not the same as a long extinct animal like a mammoth absent from the habitat for thousands of years, or bringing in animals from Asia and Africa to repopulate habitats.

    Even then, in cases like the Bolson tortoise, it has to be considered how the ecology and communities of flora and fauna might have changed in its native geological range since the tortoise has gone extinct in areas of its previous range.

  50. Ann Unknown responds:

    Mammoth or tortoise, I think that the changes in the ecology, and in the communities of flora and fauna in their previous native geological ranges, since they have been gone, could be the least of their problems. How long was the horse, supposedly, gone from North America? Was it ten-thousand years? And when they were reintroduced, “No problemo.” (At least, not for the horses. – The cattle industry holds a decidedly negative opinion of this accidental, successful, surrogate megafauna reintroduction.)

    I suspect that their biggest problem, will have changed very little.

    Quite simply, it will be – us.

    So, as the song says, “Teach your children well … “.

  51. mystery_man responds:

    Ann Unknown- I can’t argue with that! We would most certainly be the biggest problem. We HAVE been the biggest problem. I think you are pretty spot on when you say that we are going to have to re-wild ourselves before any project like this could stand a chance.

  52. flavomarginatus responds:

    This a well thought out debate here and I appreciate the civility. The incidental re-wilding of the horse 500 years ago brought about significant changes, namely in terms of bison and human ecology. Indians of the plains were essentially in a predator/prey relationship with the bison. Estimates of bison numbers range from 20 to 60 million. That is a very wide range. Prior to the horse, bison were stalked on foot. Suddenly, a new vehicle arrives and now the bison can be hunted very effectively. Now a band of 40 people grows to 100 due to the increased food supply. Consequently, the horse population grows as well-and eating the same food as the bison but at a 25% greater rate (horse Animal unit/month=1.25). You can see the feedback loop occurring here, sort of like cars competing for corn with the biofuels debacle. Despite the horse being a native species in North America at one time, it was part of the ecology when humans were not. This is ecology in a nutshell because each component depends upon all the other components. Putting together a former ecosystem on a scale of the Pleistocene Re-wilding proposal is an impossible task due to the infinite number of variables that are available.

  53. dogu4 responds:

    Thanks for that input there, Ann Unknown. As far as the turtles being a far cry from a reintroduced mammoth, perhaps you’re right mystery man (I fully appreciate and recognize your insight on this), but we could easily test it out using Asian Elephants for which these is already a need as zoos and circuses begin to “retire” them. As for the horse introduction, the problem from the perspective of their overgrazing and competition was that we didn’t also re-introduce african lions and cheetahs whose ancestors in North America’s pleistocene landscape were no doubt a balancing factor.
    I do appreciate mystery man’s careful and balanced perspective and don’t advocate just “rushing in” without a plan, but I swear the paralysis of analysis when it comes to this kind of strategy, coming surprisingly from the “environmental community” who for reasons that escape me are somehow worried that the character of the west will be harmed by it…really, the character of the western range is a degraded impoverished feed lot in far too many places with collapsed water tables and seas of uncontrolled and unwated (uneconomical) species. ..oh, and a touch of instinctive anxiety about children being eaten by cheetahs or lions thrown in for flavor despite the statistican near impossibilty of it happening.
    Anyhow, I’ve enjoyed this discussion immensely. Here’s to more of it. cheers.

  54. Cryptoraptor responds:

    I believe the field of genetics is the future of Cryptozoology.

    Eventually even the diehards will allow logic to creep into their bigfoot hopes and will need something to fill the void.

    There will be rogue(and legitimate) individuals that create new life forms in much the same way people currently create computer programs AND viruses.

    Soooooo……eventually there will be Mammoths(that actually used to exist) and others will have their ‘bigfoot’.

  55. flavomarginatus responds:

    Re-wilding large animals will probably come down to semantics. The simple idea of having large, dangerous animals will never fly. Look at the reaction of the public with the introduction of native 120 lb gray wolves that rarely interact with humans. A 400lb lion just isn’t gonna go over well. However, elephants may be possible if it is pitched right. Shrub invasion into grasslands is a problem throughout the West, and elephants or rhinos are well suited to deal with this problem. If these large tree and shrub eaters could be used as a restoration tool, then it may stand a chance. Using these animals to perform a specific ecosystem function, such as woody plant removal, is a valid and very pragmatic use for re-wilding.

    As far as Bolson tortoises are concerned, I don’t think that the re-introduction of them into their former range has done a great deal to modify the habitat to any great degree, after all there are only 25 of them that roam in a 17 acre enclosed space. The low metabolism, energy requirement and home range of a tortoise (the largest one weighing about 30lbs), and which spends 90% of it’s time underground, pales in comparison to even one cow when it comes to modifying a landscape. One aspect of Bolson tortoise restoration that is rarely discussed is the fact that it’s occurrence in the Southwest was prior to the Holocene. During the Pleistocene much of the former range of the tortoise was pinyon, juniper grassland and was not Chihuahuan Desert as it is now. The same goes for the Desert tortoise which has only existed in the desert for less than 0.1% of 1% of it’s evolutionary history. Being ectotherms, tortoise distribution is shaped by climate more than any other factor, specifically critical minimum temperatures that penetrate deep enough into burrows for extended periods of time. The climate of Bolson de Mapimi (the current wild range of the Bolson), is very different than the re-introduction site near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. To deem the Bolson tortoise re-wilding a success after only two years in the cold northern Chihuahuan Desert is like “W” declaring “Mission Accomplished” a few months after invading Iraq. Will a self sustaining population of tortoises be able to persist in a climate that is much colder than it’s current limited range? The premise of the Bolson’s re-wilding was that it was a victim of human overkill 11,000 years ago. However, climate change should not be ruled out, for it was very real and altered conditions in that part of the world dramatically. I feel as though the Bolson tortoise, being a living relict and survivor from the Pleistocene, may hold some of the clues to the ongoing climate change versus overkill debate.

  56. mystery_man responds:

    Dogu4- Thanks, I have enjoyed this discussion very much too. It is very nice to be able to come together here with other well informed, thoughtful people with the same interests and discuss these things. Your input is much appreciated.

    Flavomarginatus- I don’t know if you read all my comments above, but you seem to have the same concerns and a similar way of thinking as me. Thank you for your input. Just to add some thoughts to what you already said.

    Yeah, the experiments with the Bolson tortoise are pretty small scale at this point in time. I tend to think this is how any such reintroduction effort should start, but indeed it won’t necessarily give us the full picture. Even if things seem Ok under the current conditions, some of the proposed animals have huge ranges, and with small scale experiments it might be hard to gage just how their movements and interactions with the larger environment will effect the overall plan and ecology.

    There is also the relatively small number of test animals. I’m not so sure we can make any predictions on the success of the program from studying such a limited test population.

    It is very hard to try and create a mini ecology and emulate every single subtlety. Like we have both mentioned here, ecology is a very complex thing with many variables. The composition of plant and animal assemblages in the habitat as a whole also can’t be fully taken into account with these small scale tests, nor can problems that may arise over long stretches of time. When the animals are released into the wild, there are bound to be unforeseen effects. It is an interesting program, but it might be a bit premature to call anything a success until more time has passed and wide range studies are done.

    Another thing is that even if the tortoise currently interacts well with the ecology of the area they are currently in, I’m not sure that it necessarily means they are going to interact well with all of the animals from a range of trophic levels that are being considered for reintroduction. Some of these species have had their ancestors absent from the tortoise’s habitat for thousands of years and I’ve gone into the inherit problems of trying to use proxy species to fill in the blanks.

    Even so, as I explained before, using extant species reintroduced into their historical range (like the tortoise) isn’t foolproof, but likely less problematic than using clones, descendants from long extinct species, or proxy species. I’m curious to see what further studies will turn up on the overall ecological effects of animals such as the Bolson tortoise, or other indigenous Pleistocene survivors like the puma and others being gradually returned to their previous geological ranges.

    I am hopeful for some such reintroductions. Some reintroduction efforts have been successful, and they can be often be a sound conservation plan, but they all have to be thought out, especially ones on the scale of the proposed Pleistocene re-wilding. I’d say I agree with you that rather than trying to recreate a whole ecosystem, we can perhaps use animals that fulfill a particular ecological need or fill a long absent niche, for example the Yellowstone wolves mentioned earlier.

    Anyway, this has been a great discussion from all sides. Many things to think about and consider, presented in a civil, respectful way. This is one of the reasons I love this site.

  57. Ann Unknown responds:

    … horse introduction, the problem from the perspective of their overgrazing and competition was that we didn’t also re-introduce african lions and cheetahs whose ancestors in North America’s pleistocene landscape were no doubt a balancing factor.

    Actually, we already have a surviving check on the horses – the puma. (Incidentally, two years ago, a single puma took all 8 foals, produced by my neighbor’s Quarter Horse brood band, in one week.) I think the problem would more likely be foal survival than overpopulation, if we rethink predator control, as it is now practiced. And I doubt that most finely bred horses could fit the rewilding bill. My suggestion would be the old time Spanish mustangs , with 500-years of adaptation, just on this continent alone. (Mustangs with 500 years of adaptation, are far more rare, than most people would believe. I am told that there only as few as 4 herds. And even those are under the constant threat of being compromised by modern breed releases. Most BLM herds are composed of unwanted first, or second, generation abandoned livestock; the ugly equivalent of dumping out pets, when they outlive their appeal, IMHO. :-( )

    As for the trees, shrubs, and the resulting falling water table: I believe the continent’s missing equines were as much a control on this, as was the mammoth. (Just ask any grandparent, who’s grandchild’s pony was introduced to their impeccably landscaped back yard – my own personal experience!)

    And then, there are areas where even elephants/mammoths would have problems (the ecosystem changes since their extinction, mysteryman spoke of?). Case in point: the salt ceder invasives on the Gila River, in Arizona. Recently, a control program was implemented employing domestic goats. One of the major problems, as I understand it, was the intensive manpower necessary to “herd” the goats, in order to avoid salt toxicity. Equines, in fact, need salt, and are immune to this hazard. From what I have read, in some parts of Siberia this same plant species constitutes the greater part of their winter forage. Instinctively adjusting their water intake to compensate for the high salt levels, they require no human management. They could at least be of some value, reclaiming an area, preceding elephant/mammoth reintroduction.

    Now flavomarginatus, I understand from my Texan friends, that they find me, a hole lot easier on the eyes, than ol’ Dubya. 😉

    But I still think that 25 tortoises on 17 acres, constitutes a HUGE success – compared to 0 tortoises, on 0 acres, just a few short years ago. Guess I am regarding it as being relative to how turtle slow those tortoises reproduce.

    Yes, a highly satisfying discussion. 😀

  58. flavomarginatus responds:

    Mystery Man- Thanks for the feedback. The Pleistocene Re-Wilding gang, more than anything, have inspired a lot of discussion about ecology, policy, endangered species, exotic species, but not necessarily in that order. In fact, the weakest aspect of the proposal has been concerning the on the ground herbivory aspects, i.e. range management. Even native herbivore restoration, like bison, can be fraught with problems such as overgrazing. What many fail to take into account is the spatial and temporal aspect of herbivore movements. For example, the historic range of bison ranges from the Northwest Territories of Canada to southern Coahuila and possibly Zacatecas. Quite often the lines on maps empower people to assume that it is feasible to place bison on one piece of land for an very extended period of time, when in actuality the movements of these great herds followed the flush of green following good rainfall or fire. Therefore, there were periods when no grazers were present on a large tracts of land for a long time. I guess we need a whole continent to really do this thing right!

  59. mystery_man responds:

    Flavomarginatus- Yes, that’s pretty much spot on. I’ve mentioned here earlier the problems that can be inherit even in reintroducing animals to their historical ranges. Herbivores especially can alter the dynamics of plant life in an area, and their movements are exactly like you said, wide ranging and difficult to predict. Also, overgrazing can have devastating effects on a grassland ecosystem. Just like I mentioned earlier, I think we really do need an adequately large area (maybe not a WHOLE continent :) ) to get any sort of real sense of how things are likely to work out. There have been successful herbivore reintroduction projects, equids in particular have had some nice successes in some areas, so any such plan is not doomed to disaster. But it does need a lot of study and consideration.

    To me, even even indigenous ones returned to native geological ranges are absolutely going to pose potential problems. However, I’m more worried about importing exotic herbivore species, or species from any trophic level for that matter, as proxies. That is something that should be approached with caution and I am not comfortable with the assumptions some have made in such debates that this could go smoothly in any way.

    The whole Pleistocene renewal debate is fascinating to me because it hits on some of my main areas of professional interest, which are ecology and the effects of introduced species on Native ecosystems (for all intents and purposes the same essential situation that could cause problems with these re-wilding plans). The debate is opening up all kinds of great discussions on the areas you mention, and I would encourage this to continue before any plan is pushed forward.

  60. mystery_man responds:

    Ann Unknown, Flavomarginatus- I tend to agree with what Ann Unknown said that perhaps starting small is better than nothing at all. There are actually many successful cases where such reintroductions were started on a small scale and gradually expanded.

    If I remember correctly, the Przewalski’s horse of China and Mongolia was one such case. In the late 1960s, it was considered extinct in the wild and by 1979 there were fewer than 400 surviving individuals in captivity. They were reintroduced in two limited areas and one population increased by around 50%, therefore encouraging further reintroduction in their historic range based on the positive overall results of the first attempts. While it may be too early to tell the long term effects, it seems that the program is a success so far. So here we have a large grazer that was reintroduced to its historic habitat without major problems.

    Anyway, successes are certainly not guaranteed, and one could argue that these experiments use time, money, and effort that may be better spent elsewhere on other conservation measures.

    Going back to indigenous versus exotic grazers, I tent to feel that cases involving indigenous extant animals, like the Przewalski’s horse in Asia, or expanding the range of the bison in North America, tend to hold more of a chance of working out in general. Of course these large herbivores can possibly overgraze, and differences in species compositions since the animal’s absence have to be considered, but I am more optimistic with these species than with using exotic grazers. Exotic feral horses, for example, have drastically altered plant ecology in marsh lands and grasslands in some areas where they were introduced, which can cause a ripple effect throughout the ecology. There’s not always a sure fire way to tell what they will choose to eat either, and they could decide that they like rare plants or plants that another species prefers, putting them in direct competition and resulting in culmanitive overgrazing.

    In order for large herbivores to have a chance of successfully being reintroduced, there has to be a healthy overall ecosystem put in place. There need to be predators. This is likely where public opinion is going to hold sway, as conservation efforts tend to reach more opposition with reintroductions of predators. No matter how remote the proposed area, there is always a chance of escape, and many people are not comfortable with the idea of having wolves or pumas released. I can’t imagine that any such plan will not meet some opposition, no matter how unfounded those fears may be. I can imagine that species commonly seen as somewhat more benign, such as elephants or even camels may have similar effect of public perception.

    So this comes around to what Flavomarginatus touched on concerning policy and public opinion. In order to make sure that herbivore species of a Pleistocene re-wilding are operating at a healthy level and not negatively impacting the plant ecology, all of the pieces of the bigger picture have to be in place, such as predators. But to do this, the project will need public support.

    So we have an interesting mix of ecological concerns, logistics, economics, biology, policy, and public opinion here with trying to recreate Pleistocene ecological models.

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