2009, pp 235-256
Date: 06 Aug 2009

Ending Extinction: The Quagga, the Thylacine, and the “Smart Human”

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Abstract

In a museum in Cape Town, South Africa, a mounted specimen of a week-old quagga foal balances on slender legs. In the Australian Museum in Sydney, Australia, the four-month-old pouch-young of a thylacine (Tasmanian “tiger”) floats in a fluid-filled jar. These extinct species are the subject of attempts at re-creation using genetic technologies: the quagga by selective breeding after tests on tissue samples from the taxidermy specimen and the thylacine by cloning from DNA extracted from the furless body in the glass container. While developments in reproductive technology involving human tissue and stem cell research have generated impassioned public debates, there has been relatively little discussion of cases where animals are the primary subjects. This chapter examines the way these two projects are represented on official websites, in newspapers and magazines, and in the Discovery Channel documentary End of Extinction, arguing that they draw heavily on and interact with fictional representations of cloning extinct species in the book and film Jurassic Park. In all these representations little concern is expressed for the animals involved in the research, or the potential well-being of those that may be produced if the programmes are successful.

The question then is are these projects in the interests of the creatures involved, or are attempts to retrieve extinct animals simply an expression of speciesism? I argue that revival efforts using genetic technologies should be critically examined on the websites of public institutions, questions should be asked about methods and claims, and alternative solutions to the problem of extinctions discussed.