March 2, 2014

Don't bring back the passenger pigeon

For a long time people have kicked around the idea of bringing back extinct species. Now, the technological hurdles are becoming less overwhelming. Whole Earth Catalog guru Stewart Brand has a guy working on bringing back the passenger pigeon, which sounds like a terrible choice. Back around 1880, passenger pigeons made up about 25%-40% of all birds in North America. Then, after massive hunting and turning forest into farmland, they suddenly were extinct by 1914 .

Passenger pigeons only mate when they live in huge flocks. That's why conservation attempts at the U. of Chicago around 1900 failed. Humans would have to restore immense numbers of passenger pigeons and then they might get out of control. Charles C. Mann in 1491 called the vast flocks of the early 19th Century "pathological." The emergence of stupendous numbers of passenger pigeons probably was the result of European or Indian impact on the landscape in some fashion.

Bringing back the Rocky Mountain Locust would be the only worse plan. Or maybe some kind of vicious flying dinosaur predators.

The right kind of animal to bring back is something that is spectacular, hasn't been gone for long, has a cousin species alive today to bear a cloned fetus, and can't fly or swim away from its preserves and set off unexpected ecological chain reaction.

In other words, wooly mammoths!

The ideal place for a herd of wooly mammoths would be the remote Kerguelen Islands in the southern Indian Ocean.

This French possession is isolated and unpopulated but surprisingly large (over 2,000 square miles). The climate is appropriate for Ice Age beasts.

Billionaires could pay ten million dollars to go wooly mammoth hunting on the Kerguelen Islands with a gun (or only a million to hunt with a spear and atlatl).
   

42 comments:

dearieme said...

Matthew Parris: "He spent the Antarctic winter of 2000 on the French possession of Grande Terre, part of the Kerguelen Archipelago in the Indian Ocean, with a few dozen over-winterers, mostly researchers. One of them was fatally shot in an accident during his stay, an event about which he wrote for the Times."

There are risks beyond mammoths.

notsaying said...

We have our fingers in too many pies as it is.

We have too many people and animals who do not thrive or survive today.

We should leave the resurrection business to future generations to contemplate.

5371 said...

Charles C. Mann was full of shit. There are plenty of examples from other parts of the world (flocks of queleas, herds of springbok) where animals then gathered in numbers which have no analogue today.

Anonymous said...

awesome idea. i'd love to see real life mammoths

Contaminated NEET said...

They've been promising us cloned mammoths for the last 25 years. Where the hell are they? It's just like the flying car.

Gene Berman said...

The worst?

I guess bringing back smallpox ()and maybe polio) wouldn't be so bad! (And with polio, we'd at least have a small existing stock to work with.)

Anonymous said...

I would have infinitely greater respect for a billionaire who went mammoth hunting with spear and atlatl than I would for one armed with an elephant gun.

Anonymous said...

Canadian geese

Anonymous said...

These fellas:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/9/9b/Frohawk_Dodo.png

Paul said...

Love that mammoth ides.

There are North American bird species that would also be a better choices. The ivory-billed woodpecker and Bachman's warbler are two 20th century extinctees that come to mind.

The Carolina parakeet isn't a habitat specialist like the above, so could I suppose they might become a pest (Thousands of monk parakeets descended from pet store escapees in Edgewater, NJ across from Manhattan are very noisy and build giant communal stick nests all over town).

Reg Cæsar said...

Paging Michael Vick: This has tremendous possibilities. As soon as I get the Cockfighting Channel up and running, I'll be sure to give you a call.

Portlander said...

I worry about the hubris that comes along with pulling off something incredibly popular like a wooly mammoth. Sort of like US foreign policy after WWI & II. Methinks much better they suffer some inglorious and humbling defeat to dial back their ambition, or at least the public's enthusiasm for said ambition. The War of 1812 comes to mind.

Reg Cæsar said...

One of them was fatally shot in an accident during his stay, an event about which he wrote for the Times." --DearieMe

Now that sounds like an exclusive!

Is that the Times of London? We'd love to know their secret to getting accident victims to write for them posthumously.

Anonymous said...

The Kerguelen's might have the right climate, but they might not have the right food. (Perhaps that could be arranged...) A recent theory that seems to have some evidence is that the mammoths were wiped out when modern grasses reduced the type of plants they ate.

A National Geographic article, "Woolly Mammoths Wiped Out by Grass Invasion?", Dan Vergano, National Geographic, February 5, 2014:

"...new DNA analysis of Arctic vegetation over the past 50,000 years, published in Nature... The great beasts vanished because they weren't getting enough of the right food. ...

... Some 10,000 years ago, the researchers found, the flowering, broad-leafed plants known as forbs—including sagebrush, yarrow, mums, and tansies—disappeared from Arctic steppes, which became more dominated by grasses. ...

...The forbs could have been a key source of protein, Willerslev says, and they may have been easier to digest than grass."



A wikipedia link on forbs (things like subflowers and milkweed).




(BTW, I think all the animals on the Kerguelen's are from those kept aboard sailing ships, for instance there are reindeer in the Kerguelen's, from Norwegian whalers, which kept them for meat.)

Mount Shasta Inquirer said...

Or Wrangel Island in the Russian Arctic, possibly the last place where the species survived.

notbob said...

Wooly Mammoths probably taste very good too, as Indians ate them all first.

rightsaidfred said...

The care and feeding of massive flocks of passenger pigeons would be about equivalent to the care and feeding of massive numbers of unneeded immigrants.

Maybe our elites will switch their destructive replacement strategy to one of replacing people with animals.

Steve Sailer said...

"Some 10,000 years ago, the researchers found, the flowering, broad-leafed plants known as forbs—including sagebrush, yarrow, mums, and tansies—disappeared from Arctic steppes, which became more dominated by grasses"

Plenty of sage brush these days near the La Brea Tar Pits on Wilshire Boulevard.

Anonymous said...

Plenty of sage brush these days near the La Brea Tar Pits on Wilshire Boulevard.


Now that I think about it, the LA basin would make a fine mammoth reserve. Do something useful with the place, and all that.

Anonymous said...

The dodo is the most important species to bring back -- tame, lives on weeds, juicy, thick, plump, & tasty meat, and can't fly. Dodo's are the other, other white meat.

50 years from now, we will all have loveable dodo pets, and be eating at Dodo-burger fast food restaurants.

Anonymous said...

dire wolves

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dire_wolf

woolly rhinoceros

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woolly_rhinoceros

saber-toothed cats

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saber-toothed_cat

giant sloth

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megatherium

Anonymous said...

Somebody must explain to me why it's supposed to be a tragedy if a species goes extinct.
I'm a vegan animal lover YET it's a mistery to me. Who cares if the last polar bears have no children? Why is that a colossal tragedy? What makes polar bear useful or essential as a species? And why does everybody in the world go along with this assumption and never express disagreement? What am i missing?
Now we must even bring back disappeared species? Why? How is that a priority or even a good thing?

Anonymous said...

Err....

A wikipedia link on forbs (things like sunflowers and milkweed).

No "subflowers" or yellow submarines anywhere in sight, unless the mammoth ate too much milkweed.

Samson J. said...

Or maybe some kind of vicious flying dinosaur predators.

Can there possibly be anyone who doesn't think this would be awesome?

Great Cthulhu said...

Great Cthulhu has ordained: The giant ammonite must return!

Anonymous said...

It definitely wasn't because of European disruption that the passenger pigeons had dominated North America. The earliest European settlers noted clouds of them that blocked out the sun. Could have been the Indians though.

I didn't realize they only bred in large flocks. I was excited for their return, but it sounds like there's no place for them. The thylacine would have been nice, but there is no surrogate species to birth them.

Anonymous said...

"For a long time people have kicked around the idea of bringing back extinct species."

It's pretty obvious that by far the most interest is in bringing back the Neanderthal.

Bring back the mammoths to Kerguelen or Wrangle island... then bring back the people who hunted them:


"Neanderthals cleared of driving mammoths over cliff in mass slaughter"...

"Neanderthals built homes with mammoth bones"


"THE MAMMOTHS OF STONE AGE BRITAIN"

"...the first Neanderthal hunting camp discovered in Britain. The 50,000-year-old fossils... partial skeletons from at least four mammoths, together with eight Neanderthal flint hand-axes... one hand-axe is actually inside a mammoth skull still attached to a tusk..."



And just for good measure:

"Talking Neanderthals challenge the origins of speech"



Save the Mammoths! Save the Neanderthal! Free Kerguelen Now!

Mr. Anon said...

Thanks for bringing up the Kerguelens. I remember reading about them when I was a kid, but had completely forgot them. There is something intrinsically interesting about a place so remote. According to the Wikipedia article, the main island does not even have an airfield; the only access is by sea.

Steve Sailer said...

The Kerguelens are only as far south as Vancouver is north, 49 degrees, but the wind is unrelenting.

Anonymous said...

More Neanderthal Ukranian news, from "Neanderthals built homes with mammoth bones":


"...the remains of a 44,000 year old Neanderthal building that was constructed using the bones from mammoths. ... The circular building, which was up to 26 feet across at its widest point, is believed to be earliest example of domestic dwelling built from bone. ... ...many of the bones had been decorated with carvings and ochre pigments.


Laëtitia Demay, an archaeologist... said: "The mammoth bones have been deliberately selected – long and flat bones, tusks and connected vertebrae – and were circularly arranged..."



The bone structure was found near the town of Molodova in eastern Ukraine on a site that was first discovered in 1984. It was constructed of 116 large bones including mammoth skulls, jaws, 14 tusks and leg bones. .... Inside at least 25 hearths filled with ash were also discovered, suggesting it had been used for some time."




FWIW, weren't horses likely first domesticated in the Ukraine?

Reg Cæsar said...

…only as far south as Vancouver is north…

I was thinking Winnipeg-- 49° above the equator and below the zero mark. More to the point, this week, it's at the same latitude as Kiev.

Hunsdon said...

Anonydroid at 9:49 PM said: FWIW, weren't horses likely first domesticated in the Ukraine?

Hunsdon said: If not in Ukraine proper, certainly on the vast Eurasian steppe, a sea of grass running from Hungary to China.

slumber_j said...

Why has no one suggested bringing back Paul Walker? You could confine him to Catalina Island in case anything went wrong...

Maguro said...

we could bring in Chinese Needle Snakes to keep the passenger pigeons under control.

Anonymous said...

"FWIW, weren't horses likely first domesticated in the Ukraine?"

yes

Anonymous said...

Patrick O'Brian also had some fascination with the Kerguelens: he set some of the Aubrey-Maturin saga on them.

Camlost said...

Maybe they could bring back the Carolina Parakeet instead.

Camlost said...

Actually, the Thylacine has to be the #1 species worthy of being brought back from extinction.

Anonymous said...

Actually the Tasmanian Tiger would be a better bet -- easier to do as well.

Assuming, of course, that it's really extinct....

Anonymous said...

The bed bug was brought back from extinction. At least in this country

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Mann's thesis seems pretty contrived, since we're not digging up piles of Indio-American bones at construction sites or utility digs, and there are no sprawling Indio-American ruins all over the place.

Anonymous said...

"The bed bug was brought back from extinction. At least in this country."

You can thank third world immigration for that.