Return from the Abyss…

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again…who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly.” (Teddy Roosevelt)

It would be a signature achievement to revive, or at least come very close in genetic terms, the Pinta Island tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra abingdonii). As the New York Times describes, scientists found close genetic matches to the Pinta Island tortoises and hope to utilize a breeding program to create the closest probable match to the original species.

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it is a marvel that we can use DNA analysis and managed breeding programs to repair some of the harm we do through extinction. This program is using living animals, not trying to re-establish a species from stored DNA, like some of the rumors of creating a mammoth, which seems gimmicky to me. More like it’s the thrill of the challenge, which would be fine if there weren’t living beings unwittingly involved.

On the other hand, we should not feel the catastrophic error of human-caused extinction can just be undone by some plucky scientists and a dash of DNA. Better to put our energies into protecting the diversity of life that we still have. Preserving the remaining species and building ecosystem resilience would be the ultimate “triumph of high achievement.”

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Lonesome George (Photo credit: Rodrigo Buendia/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)

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