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Should We Reverse Animal Extinction?

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The woolly mammoth went extinct 3,000 to 10,000 years ago. Scientists in Russia and South Korea are working on plans to clone a mammoth to create a living specimen.

That’s the question we’ve been asking lately at National Geographic. Our April cover story dives deeply into the question, pointing to new research that might help us bring back animals like passenger pigeon and the woolly mammoth.

It’s easy to see both sides of the argument. Centuries of human civilization have taken a serious toll on  wildlife, driving many species toward extinction at a faster pace than at any point in the planet’s history. What better way to apologize than to give them new life? To, essentially, render them un-extinct?

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On the other hand, having the power to bring back species we’ve driven off the planet means that efforts to protect species that are currently imperiled like the polar bear or rare amphibians ring hollow. “Save the Leatherback sea turtle or we’ll never have another one!” doesn’t mean anything if we can, in fact, create another one.

It’s a fascinating story. But don’t take my word for it. The April edition will be on newsstands next week. Or check back here tomorrow for the link. (A third option, of course, would be to subscribe.)

In the meantime, we’ve got more planned. Tomorrow at Nat Geo headquarters, some top scientists, ethicists and activists will be hosting a TEDx conference on de-extinction. They’ll be speaking about the science, plus the implications. No one has all the answers, but they’re hoping to start a broader conversation about scientific innovation and its role in conservation.

I’ll be live-tweeting much of the conference. So as always with issues of environmental technology, come on back to Change Reaction. Or follow me at @NatGeoDan.