Humans Slaughtered Mammoths But Can They Save Us from Climate Change? #globalwarming #rewilding #elephant #climatechange #nature #EndangeredSpeciesDay

Feral horse

Rewilding is “large-scale conservation aimed at restoring and protecting natural processes and core wilderness areas.” In North America and Europe, projects are underway to protect and reintroduce large wildlife, including predators, and reverse habitat loss.

Pleistocene rewilding seeks to restore ecosystems from ten thousand years ago – for example, by introducing elephants, lions, and cheetahs to protected areas in the American Great Plains.

Rewilding aims to save animals and ecosystems, but a project now underway in Siberia is “a radical geoengineering scheme” with a human-centric goal: to slow climate change.

During the last Ice Age, vast areas of grasslands beyond the edges of glaciers locked up huge amounts of carbon in Siberia (not something universal in the Arctic.) As today’s permafrost melts, release of all that carbon dioxide threatens to create a positive feedback that would accelerate global warming and make climate change worse for you and me – and our progeny. But returning these areas to Pleistocene grassland could slow or prevent the change by keeping “permafrost frozen by giving it a top coat of Ice Age grassland.”

All we need are the animals that created that grassland ecosystem. Horses, bison, musk ox, and reindeer have already been moved into what was once a Soviet-era gulag of gold mining, but the project needs something bigger – mammoths.

Cloning may jump into your mind, but it’s not likely. DNA degrades even when frozen and we may never find a viable mammoth cell. But mammoths are closely related to elephants, and scientists from across the globe are working to resurrect the mammoth by turning on genes that will adapt elephants to the Arctic climate by giving them heavy coats, thick layers of fat, and smaller ears, among other changes.

That seems like the easy part. If embryos are eventually created, they can’t be placed in surrogate elephant mothers – Asian elephants are endangered. So artificial wombs are needed.

A womb isn’t just a bucket of fluid.

The mammalian mother–child bond, with its precisely timed hormone releases, is beyond the reach of current biotechnology. But scientists are getting closer with mice… [There are] hopes to deliver the first woolly mammoth to Pleistocene Park within a decade.

Even if the technical problems are solved, there’s still a cultural issue. A baby needs a mother. Elephants – and, no doubt, mammoths – are highly social animals.

Older mammoths would have taught the calf how to find ancestral migration paths, how to avoid sinkholes, where to find water. When a herd member died, the youngest mammoth would have watched the others stand vigil, tenderly touching the body of the departed with their trunks before covering it with branches and leaves. No one knows how to re-create this rich mammoth culture, much less how to transmit it to that cosmically bewildered first mammoth.

It’s an amazing, overwhelming undertaking. But there are people out there working on it. Perhaps we’ll see reconstructed, de-extincted mammoths in our lifetime.

Thanks to theatlantic.com for their article, with some help from wikipedia.org.

I Wonder If I’m a Barbarian #AnimalRights #AnimalWelfare #animals #nature

chimps-ultimatum-game-012613-620x350This post is about philosophy rather than science. While I love science because it allows us to learn about the world, and I believe policies should be based on reality, science can’t replace ethics.

I recently ran across the Nonhuman Rights Project, which is in the news for a court case to force the release of two chimpanzees used for research by granting them the legal status of “persons.”

Before you assume the chimps’ lawyers are nuts and want apes to join the United Nations, take a look at this description from their website:

Do not confuse these fundamental rights of nonhuman animals with so-called ‘human rights.’ Human rights are for humans. Chimpanzee rights are for chimpanzees. Dolphin rights are for dolphins. Elephant rights are for elephants.”

What these rights entail is “not being held in captivity” and “not being touched without consent or in one’s best interests,” which refers to medical research and forced performances. The group says they advocate for “animals for whom there is clear scientific evidence of such complex cognitive abilities as self-awareness and autonomy. Currently that evidence exists for elephants, dolphins and whales, and all four species of great apes.”

While I realize some medical breakthroughs depend on animal beautiful joeresearch, it does leave me queasy. I’m reminded of Christiaan Barnard, the heart transplant pioneer, who stopped using chimps in his work because he couldn’t bear their suffering. One of my favorite childhood books was Beautiful Joe (I’m not that old! I found it in Grandma’s house and pleased to see it’s still available), an 1893 book that was part of that era’s fight against cruelty to animals. The movement lives on in the Humane Society and countless laws and ordinances. You only have to imagine the reaction if someone started beating a dog in a public park to realize our society has profoundly changed its views on animals. Today we see animal abuse as a sign of pathology, of a sick mind and soul.

Henhouse_near_Ganthorpe_-_geograph.org.uk_-_670026

by Phil Catterall

Science can help us understand animals, but it can’t tell us how we should treat them. The Nonhuman Rights Project focuses on sentient animals, but animal rights are a larger concern. I eat meat, and I’m willing to pay more at the grocery store for animals to be treated humanely – I think. I still bypass the free-range chicken for cheaper packages – I tell myself I don’t trust the labeling to reflect better lives for chickens. I’ve been to SeaWorld despite controversy. I keep pets. I wonder if, in another hundred years, I’ll be viewed as a barbarian.

Update: Two years after retiring most of its research chimpanzees, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) is ceasing its chimp programme altogether… The 50 NIH-owned animals that remain… will be sent to sanctuaries. The agency will also develop a plan for phasing out NIH support for the remaining chimps that are supported by, but not owned by, the NIH.

Another Update: Seaworld is ending their killer whale shows and will stop breeding the whales in captivity. Since they stopped taking whales from the wild years ago, the orcas now at Seaworld will be their last.