It’s a Strange, Strange World

In Honor of Jurassic Park

In 1993, the movie JURASSIC PARK was released and opened up the eyes of the world to cloning more effectively than any 100 scientific papers.

Cloning. It was all the rage. But since then, little has been said about it. Sure, the ultra-religious folk still say it's an abomination ("You can't play God!"). And the media still plays it up like it's a joke ("Jurassic Park for real? Scientists secretly cloning extinct animals!"). For the most part, though, cloning has been relegated to column four on page 30 of the newspaper, or stuck in scientific magazines/e-zines that the average person never reads. Personally, I've always been on the pro-cloning side. I've always thought it might be cool to see some of those dinosaurs or over-sized mammals get brought back. We could finally see what dinosaurs looked like, how they moved, if they had feathers. We could watch how a saber-toothed lion actually killed its prey. But, since our technology was nowhere near advanced enough to get beyond the occasional sheep or dog, it was just a dream.

Things might be changing, however.

Scientists in Australia recently cloned an extinct frog, Rheobatrachus silus (which has the rather nasty habit of brooding its eggs in its mouth until they hatch). And next on their list might just be the Thylacine, the so-called Tasmanian Tiger, which has been extinct since the 1950s or 1960s (or not at all, depending on who you believe). Which brings me to the point of this column. With DNA extraction methods becoming more and more effective each year, scientists have put together a list of possible animals that could be cloned in the next decade or so, based on the availability of genetic materials. Here are a few that I'd be worried about:

Thylacine, or Tasmanian Tiger. Also called the Tasmanian Wolf, it's actually the largest known carnivorous marsupial of modern times. It was described in the early 1900s as a formidable predator because of its durability, pack hunting strategy, and stealthiness.

Just the sort of animal you want to bring back, especially in Australia, a country with a fantastic record of screwing up their ecology with accidentally introduced species.

Woolly Mammoth. Rumor has it several scientific teams are already working on cloning this giant furry elephant-like creature. Of course, no one is thinking about where the heck they're going to live after we make a bunch of them. In a zoo? Not likely. First of all, with all that ivory, black market-dependent countries like China and Japan will ensure a big-time ivory market, just like they do for Africa now. Second, people will start protesting that these "big, beautiful animals" be allowed back to their natural habitat, that it's cruel to keep them in zoos.

Of course, with global warming and the potential for floods and a new ice age, maybe it'll be good to have something our next generation can hunt for food and skins, the way our ancestors did.

Saber-toothed cat. Thanks to the tar pits in California, there's a lot of DNA available to clone these crazy critters. There were several different species in North America, ranging in size from 120 pounds to 880 pounds (much larger than any living tiger or lion). They had those massive canines, which could reach almost twenty inches in length. They are believed to have hunted in packs, like lions do today. They were the apex predator of their time, and would have no natural enemies in our current environment.

The perfect animal to get loose and cause havoc. And they would get loose, you know it. If not from a lab or zoo, then because some crazy billionaire secretly cloned his own and then left the gate open. Don't believe me? Maybe you've forgotten that Mike Tyson used to have full-grown tigers on his property in Vegas.

Moa. Yes. A 500-pound, 12-foot flightless bird that's more massive than an ostrich and capable of gutting a person with one swipe of a clawed foot. Why wouldn't you want to start raising them on farms for eggs and meat? Once again, imagine how they'd change local ecologies if they got free. (Although I bet the ribs and steaks would be amazing!)

Dodo. Why? Just to laugh at the poor thing? The only benefit would be that a whole new generation would understand what "being a dodo" actually means.

Carolina parakeet. They were murdered into extinction because people loved their pretty feathers for hats. Guess what? That's all they'd be used for again if they were brought back.

Woolly rhinoceros. The size of a large rhino today, these bulky herbivores were grazers, and had to consume massive amounts of grasses each day. Like the mammoths, they'd be easy targets for poachers and ivory hunters. And you'd need a huge area of land just to raise a few of them. So, what would be the point?

Passenger pigeon. Just what the world needs. More X*$&%^ pigeons! The cities aren't infested enough already with those disgusting flying rats? I say arrest any scientists who even consider cloning these poop machines.

Neanderthals. What's the worry? We Homo sapiens outcompeted them into extinction once already, right? But what happens when a few of them read up on ancient history? What, exactly, do you think the human race will have to do in terms of reparations to make up for the mass genocide we inflicted upon them? Next thing you know, they'd be running the world. And cloning all the extinct mammals they evolved with. While the few remaining H. sapiens would be living in the woods, hunted for sport, and quoting Charlton Heston as we get captured for zoos.

And twenty years after that, a bunch of Neanderthals will be sitting down to watch the re-release of Paleolithic Park.

Hmmm. Is it too late to switch sides in the cloning debate?

Until next time ...


SPECIAL CHARITY EVENT: Purchase any of my books on Amazon, especially The Burning Time, and I will donate $1 to "Save the Ta Tas," which is an organization raising money for breast cancer research. All you need to do is send me a proof of purchase (jg@jgfaherty.com).