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So, as we start off the episode, here’s an FYI. You’ll be hearing the term ‘de-extinction’ here and there … and if you’re unfamiliar with that term, it basically refers to the process of creating an animal that resembles an extinct species. Cloning is usually the number one option, as you’ll see with several critters, including the Woolly Mammoth. Selective breeding is another technique, which is being used with the Quagga. And as you’ll learn, there’s some controversy attached to bringing extinct species back to life. Be sure and tell us what you think about all that
In the comments.
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#8 Short Faced Bear
Polar Bears and Kodiak Bears are thought the be the largest bears on the planet today. Polar bears can can weigh more than 1,500 pounds and approach 10 feet in total length. But the Short Faced Bear, which lived around 11,000 years ago in North America could weigh more than 2,000 pounds and stand up to 12 feet tall. Maybe this is one beast you don’t want to see resurrected! But experts have already salvaged DNA from the bear’s fossils that were preserved in permafrost. And it seems the animal best suited for cloning duty would be the Spectacled Bear found in South America. Ironically, that modern day relative is one of the smallest of ursines, weighing about 440 pounds. FYI, the prehistoric bears are called short-faced because their snouts were unusually short compared to other bear species.
#7 Pyrenean Ibex
Its Spanish common name is ‘Bucardo’, and it was one of four Spanish Ibex native to the Iberian Peninsula. The animal became extinct in 2000 … but later became the focus of an attempt to bring it and additional extinct species back to life. An attempt was made in 2003 to clone a female Ibex … and it did result in the birth of a baby Ibex. But it was born with a severe lung defect and survived for only 7 minutes before suffocating. However, that birth was seen as a triumph for cloning technology … and has since been viewed as the first successful effort to revive an extinct species. Efforts to recreate the Pyrenean Ibex were announced by scientists in 2013, but in a technical sense the animal was already successfully cloned.
At one time, these were the largest birds in the world. The flightless birds were native to New Zealand, and could stand 12 feet tall, and weighed about 250 pounds. Hunting by the Maori and habitat reduction combined to drive the big birds into extinction by 1445. But preserved specimens and ancient eggshells have yielded Moa DNA, that was found intact. WHich makes them a prime candidate for cloning. Did you know that in the 1980s, the complete foot of a Moa was discovered on Mount Owen on the South Island? Many people initially thought it was the mummified claw of a theropod dinosaur!
#5 Wooly Mammoth
Have you ever heard of a “mammophant”? That term refers to the product of an Asian elephant with the DNA of an extinct Woolly Mammoth. Researchers claim they’re just a few years away from successfully creating such a hybrid embryo. The Asian elephant was chosen because it’s the closest living relative to the Woolly Mammoth … and those critters went extinct recently enough that many intact fossils have been located frozen in the Arctic tundra. Scientists say the cloned animal would appear much like an elephant, but would exhibit mammoth qualities including shaggy hair, smaller ears, and blood that’s adapted for colder habitats. Woolly Mammoths vanished from the mainland around 10,000 years ago, with isolated populations going extinct as recently as 4,000 years ago.
#4 Tasmanian Tiger (Thylacine)
Thylacine was the largest carnivorous marsupial known in modern times. It gets the tiger reference due to the striping found on the animal’s lower back. Native to continental Australia, New Guinea and Tasmania, it was the largest predator in Oz some 3500 years ago until human settlers introduced dingoes. The last known Tasmanian Tiger is thought to have perished in 1936, with bounty hunting cited as a major cause for their extinction. Because Thylacine hasn’t been extinct that long (in the scope of history, anyway) there are many intact specimens that could still retain viable DNA. The genetic material has been successfully sequenced, and there are various projects underway to clone the Tasmanian Tiger back to life. By the way, we earlier said the animals were ‘thought to have perished’ because there have been many reported sightings of Thylacine in the wild ever since its alleged extinction. If you’ve ever see one, let’s hear your story!