James Borrell is a biodiversity scientist and science communicator researching how people and nature can adapt to environmental change.
Can We Bring Species Back From Extinction? (…and should we?)
I was at a school last week and a student in the audience put me right on the spot with a tough question. She asked, ‘If you could bring one species back from extinction, what would be it?’.
After some embarrassing deliberation, I went with Steller’s Sea Cow. There is, unfortunately, rather a lot of wonderful animals that one could choose, but for some reason the tale of this ocean giant caught my imagination and I would give anything to see one.
What was probably the last population was discovered by a stranded Russian expedition in 1741. Having been wrecked on the uninhabited Commander Islands in the Bering Sea, finding these enormous manatee-like herbivores that were easily caught, likely saved their lives. According to journals from the time, the Sea Cows were said to be found in herds close to the shore, and grew to 9 meters in length.
Alas, the meat was so good and catching them so easy that word spread. 27 years later Steller’s Sea Cow had been hunted to extinction.
But what if we could bring species back? Should we? Perhaps it’s too late for the Sea Cow, but dozens of species lie preserved in museums around the world and technology is racing to catch up with our imaginations…
The first step with any bold new idea is to talk about it, so here are some of sciences greatest minds doing exactly that:
De-extinction: a game-changer for conservation biology
Stanley Temple shares an impassioned view of why and how we could bring species back, but also offers a hint of doubt: what are the consequences? Could it divert attention from preventing extinction in the first place?
How to Bring Passenger Pigeons All the Way Back
Passenger pigeons once numbered 3-5 billion. It was amongst the most common birds on earth, yet it declined to extinction a century ago. Now, with the abundance of preserved specimens, a related surrogate species, and sequencing technology – we have everything we need to bring them back, argues Ben J. Novak.
Second chance for tasmanian tigers and fantastic frogs
The Thylacine and the Gastric-brooding frog are two species we’ll never see again. That’s sad enough, but what’s worse is that we killed them. We exterminated them, so we have a moral obligation to bring them back, argues biologist Michael Archer.
James is a highly acclaimed public speaker, delivering keynotes, lectures and debates to a wide range of audiences including students, the public, conservation practioners and scientists. Rather than further polarizing already divisive conservation topics, James aims to explain the complexity and nuance of conservation. What we choose to do over the next five decades, will profoundly influence the diversity of life on eath for the next 5 million years. It’s never been a more important, or more exciting time to be a conservationist.
“You gave a splendid talk – cogent, passionate, clear and compelling.”
Fellow of the Royal Society,
“It was refreshing to have a speaker who talked with such passion”
City of London Freemen's
“You had the audience hanging off your every word.”
“Interesting, informative and pitched at exactly the right level for our students.”