Via Wired: “The permanence of extinction may soon go the way of the dodo. The idea of bringing species back from the dead is gaining traction as scientific advances bring it closer to the realm of possibility. Today scientists are meeting in Washington, D.C. to discuss how they might really be able to resurrect animals like the passenger pigeon or the woolly mammoth.”
Image: Saber-tooth tiger battles dire wolves for a mammoth carcass in the La Brea tar pits. Robert Bruce Horsfall, 1913. (Public domain/Wikimedia commons)
Giant Ground Sloth
Megatherium was as big as an elephant, measuring as much as 20 feet from head to tail. Only mammoths and Paraceratherium were bigger. Its claws were so big it had to walk on the sides of its feet to accommodate them. And it could stand up and walk on two feet like you do.
Megatherium lived in North and South America, hanging on until around 10,000 years ago. They are impressive specimens in many museum collections, and you might even be able to buy your own giant fossil sloth. We’d rather see the living, breathing version.
Images: Top: Megatherium americanum. Robert Bruce Horsfall, 1913. (Wikimedia commons). Right:Wikimedia commons.
Haast’s Eagle and Moa
As long as we’re resurrecting animals, why not ecosystems? We could reconstruct at least part of one ancient food chain by bringing back the famous flightless bird of New Zealand, the moa. These enormous avians — some of which stretched more than 3.5 m from toe to beak — were the dominant herbivores in the land down under the land down under until the Maori hunted them to extinction around 1400 A.D.
Before the arrival of man, though, moas feared another predator: the incredible Haast’s Eagle. The largest known raptor to have ever lived, Haast’s Eagles would soar with their 3-m wingspans and then dive down on poor moas at speeds up to 80 km/hr. The predatory birds went extinct when their major food source — moas — was obliterated.
Image: John Megahan/PLoS Biology
Nobody knows what Diprotodon looked like. But we’re pretty sure it was strange. The largest marsupial that ever lived, it is sometimes referred to as a giant wombat. They grew to be as big as a hippo, measuring up to 10-feet long and weighing more than 3 tons.
There really isn’t anything remotely like this creature around today, which is why we’d like to bring it back. That’s the only way we’ll ever know what this odd beast looked like.
Image: One of the many interpretations of what Diprotodon might have looked like. (Wikimedia commons)
No animal may be more iconic than the dodo when it comes to extinction. These fat, flightless birds lived what we can only presume was a peaceful life on the island of Mauritius. When explorers arrived, they hunted the birds down and unleashed invasive species that killed or competed with the dodos. The last one was seen in the wild in 1662. If any species deserves to be brought back from extinction, it’s probably this one.
Image: Cornelis Saftleven
A lot of the animals we find ourselves wishing for are bigger versions of something similar that is still living. Some are just big. Paraceratherium is probably the biggest land mammal that ever lived. So obviously we want to see some of those, walking around, dwarfing elephants (and also the mammoths we also brought back).
We strayed into the millions of years ago territory we said we’d avoid to include this one, but come on. These crazy looking things were around 16 feet tall at the shoulder! They were almost 30 feet long and probably weighed 18 tons. Whoa.
Images: Top: Wikimedia commons. Right: Wikimedia commons.
Possible homicidal psycho jungle kitties, members of the genus Smilodon would not make great candidates for de-extinction. Unless, of course, you could make them in pint-size versions. Imagine a cute little saber-toothed beast of death tromping around your living room, walking all over your keyboard, leaving enormous tooth marks on your couch. Cute and terrifying at the same time.
Smilodons used to roam the plains (not jungles) of North and South America, attacking ancient ground sloths, bison, and camels. No one is exactly sure why their teeth are so big, though some scientists suggest they were used to signal sexual prowess to females. Smilodons went extinct about 10,000 years ago.
Image: Charles R. Knight
Imagine the great cracking sound that must have thundered across North Americas plains when Megacerops males fought in head-to-head combat. These rhino-like creatures have awesome Y-shaped horns with blunt ends perfect for smashing into a rival that’s eying your female. As grazers, Megacerops herds could be brought back and unleashed on their old grounds.
Image: Dmitry Bogdanov/Wikimedia
Thylacine is an excellent candidate for de-extinction: It only went extinct recently, and it looks like an awesome cross between a wolf, a lion and a numbat.
The species disappeared from mainland Australia a couple thousand years ago, but survived in Tasmania until the 20th century. That population took a big hit when Thylacines were blamed for killing sheep, and the Tasmanian government began paying bounties for dead tigers between 1888 and 1909. The last captive Thylacine died in 1936, likely from neglect, 59 days after it finally received government protection. Subsequent searches for remaining tigers in the wild turned up hundreds of reported sightings, but no solid evidence.
I think we owe this species a big apology. But we’ll need to bring it back before we can.
Image: Thylacines at the Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart, 1910. (Wikimedia commons)
Woolly Mammoths really should be around today. Isolated pockets of theses creatures lived until historic times, dying out only 4,000 to 6,000 years ago. And we’ve got frozen specimens with preserved soft tissue. Our great-great-great-great-times-500-grandfathers probably hunted these magnificent beasts and certainly loved to draw them on cave walls. As far as extinct charismatic megafauna go, Woolly Mammoths lead the pack.
[…] has a really fascinating collection of (mostly) mammals that are still surviving in the wild, and you probably haven’t even heard of them. Here are a choice […]
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