18 March 2013

Aurochs Burgers, Mastadon Steaks, and Carolina Parakeet Hats

Neanderthals - Artist's rendition of Earth approximately 60,000 years ago
The Paleo Diet
With the recent news of the teasingly near-resurrection of gastric-brooding frogs (Rheobatrachus spp.) almost 30 years after humans helped to make them extinct, the internets are abuzz with what species we can do a mulligan on.  It can be hard to resist thinking about finally repairing some of the ultimate ecological wrongs people have done, or even resurrecting a few things that would just be cool to see (one day you all shall bow before my unholy army of terror birds).

But of course as a vegan I have to poop on everyone's parade.  Plus I'm just a negative Nancy.

Let's start with a little thought experiment.  We resurrect woolly mammoths.  This is not too far off from now, as we have literal tons of frozen specimens, and as noted above the technology is moving fast.  Plus they only died out around 2000 BCE.  So we have a herd of shaggy Mammuthi in our lab enclosure.  People ooh and aah and visit from far and wide.  The next step, especially in the United States where people grab for the pitchforks and torches whenever science happens, is to outlaw the from being allowed outside.  In fact, they might already be banned in California.

But not every jurisdiction would be so strict.  In between the red-state paranoia about man-animal hybrids and the blue-state paranoia about frankenfish are more libertarian areas.  Someone in Wyoming perhaps makes a wild animal park for them.  Someone else decides to set up a ranch for them.  Shocker, people have been eating mammoths for the millennia since extinction, so why stop when fresh ones are available.  After all, between reality TV and foodies, it's going to be on plates somewhere.  Plus animal welfare regulations will have much further to go on a species that we basically own ('we created you, and we can destroy you').  Perhaps when cosmopolitan restaurant wants free-range mammoths will we start thinking about returning them to the wild.  We can't even stop eating extant lions (Panthera leo), let alone resurrected marsupial lions (Thylacoleo carnifex).  So your ecological paradise of mastadons and sabre-tooth tigers reclaiming a post-singularity landscape is not going to happen.  We overused most of these extinct animals for food and fashion already.  Once we can no longer cause permanent extinction, we could no longer overexploit them.  So while we'll have tons of laws preventing woolly mammoths from roaming the tundra or interbreeding with humans, we won't have anything to stop mammoth battery cages, gestation crates, downers, or any other horrors inflicted on a species that god and science say we own to all the way down to its genes.

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