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Won’t Somebody Please Think of the Mammoths? De-extinction and Animal Welfare

Abstract

De-extinction is the process through which extinct species can be brought back into existence. Although these projects have the potential to cause great harm to animal welfare, discussion on issues surrounding de-extinction have focussed primarily on other issues. In this paper, I examine the potential types of welfare harm that can arise through de-extinction programs, including problems with cloning, captive rearing and re-introduction. I argue that welfare harm should be an important consideration when making decisions on de-extinction projects. Though most of the proposed benefits of these projects are insufficient to outweigh the current potential welfare harm, these problems may be overcome with further development of the technology and careful selection of appropriate species as de-extinction candidates.

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Notes

  1. Or something closely resembling the species—see discussion on this point and its implications in the “Potential Issues with De-extinction” and “Restorative Benefits” sections. For the welfare concerns discussed in this paper, the distinction does not play a strong role, though may change weighting of potential benefits, as will be addressed in the “Restorative Benefits” section.

  2. Not all de-extinction projects aim at releasing animals back to the wild (Sandler 2014), and those which simply aim to create animals to hold in captivity for research or exhibition will not face this set of welfare problems, though the others, particularly those in the “Welfare Issues with Captive Rearing” section, will still apply.

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Acknowledgements

This research is supported by an Australian Government Research Training Program (RTP) Scholarship. Thanks to Seth Lazar for assistance and comments on drafts of this article. Thanks also to two anonymous reviewers for their feedback, which helped improve and clarify this manuscript. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2016 Australasian Association of Philosophy conference, and benefitted greatly from the surrounding discussion there.

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Correspondence to Heather Browning.

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Browning, H. Won’t Somebody Please Think of the Mammoths? De-extinction and Animal Welfare. J Agric Environ Ethics 31, 785–803 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10806-018-9755-2

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Keywords

  • De-extinction
  • Animal welfare
  • Cloning
  • Reintroduction