The National Geographic Magazine for May has on its cover the image of a frozen baby mammoth that took my breath away. Titled Ice Baby, the story that accompanies the image tells the tale of a baby mammoth named Lyuba, named after the wife of the person who discovered the mammoth, and the important repercussions the finding of Lyuba has on how we understand these awesome prehistoric beasts.
It’s a baby mammoth! This is WILD!
Lyuba is the most complete, most perfectly preserved mammoth carcass ever found. Environmental serendipity preserved her body – she died in silty clay, and microbes that produced lactic acid colonized her tissues and “pickled” her body, preserving it so when the ground turned to permafrost, she was preserved even more – and the fellow who discovered her body decided to turn it over instead of sell it. Now, the world stands to benefit from many of the things we’ve learned about the mammoth!
More interestingly, though, is a side article titled Recipe for a Resurrection. It makes the argument for bringing extinct species back to life. Apparently, in 2008, scientists reported they were able to activate DNA from the extinct Tasmanian tiger by inserting it into a mouse embryo. 70% of the mammoth genome has already been decoded; it’s only a matter of time before it is fully decoded and technology will enable us to bring back extinct species.
(A side article to that side article, titled Will A Mammoth Walk Again?, details three ways by which we can bring a mammoth back to life: in vitro fertilization from frozen mammoth sperm, cloning from a frozen cell, and cloning from a sequenced mammoth genome.)
Thing is, I believe the “resurrection” of extinct species is no guarantee that these animals will thrive in our current environment; there is a large possibility many will be unable to adapt, and they will once again die out. I think there is huge significance in studying the past so we can learn about it and apply what we’ve learned to ensure that what we have now is either maintained or improved.
There is glamor, undoubtedly, that comes with the credit of bringing back a woolly mammoth to the modern-day. But what about the Philippine eagle? The tarsier? There are hundreds of endangered species out there that deserve to be kept alive; we need to focus on the big picture, and the big picture says we are not doing enough to keep alive the animals we have now, and preserving our planet so our kids’ kids can still see what we have today.
This is why it is absolutely essential we do our part! Starting next week, I’ll be starting a series of short videos on how we can do our part as Filipinos to help preserve the environment in our own little way. (It’ll be informative but tongue-in-cheek.) Hopefully, two thousand years from now, assuming Jesus hasn’t returned yet and we’re not living in space, people won’t be digging up a blue whale in permafrost and saying, “man, the folks back in 2009 sure didn’t know what the heck they were doing, did they?”