Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Don't Just Go Away, Go Extinct

For all of you cave-men and women out there (cave-boys and girls too!), the big movie-hype that you would have had to be living in a cave to miss is that Jurassic Park will re-issue in theaters this week.  The big difference is that terrifying dinosaurs will be chasing humans around, eating them (or at least eating the guy who played Newman on Seinfeld), snotting dino-snot on them, and in general cavorting around the big screen IN  3-D!  That got ol' Adjunct Proff's rusty wheels a-turning on matters of extinction and whether it would be a good idea to bring some of these extinct critters back.

Do these ridiculously tiny arms make my butt look big? 
Before I rant about humans and dinosaurs on the same movie screen at the same time (NOT historically accurate; NOT cool!), it may surprise you to know that human beings almost went extinct --and I'm not talking about the Cuban Missile Crisis or the time a huge flock of 99 luftbaloons flew over from East Germany (or was that a Flock of Seagulls?  The Eighties were, like, 25 years ago, dude!).  I'm talking about early modern humans being so fucked-over by climate change that we were about 150 breeding-age females away from extinction.  Luckily, we made it out of Africa (which was being re-done by super-huge climate change) into the future Saudi Arabia, and thence to Europe, Asia and Tierra del Fuego (I am SO not making this up!) where we could thrive, diversify into the different races you see today, and eventually drive lots of other species extinct.
Scientists believe that the passenger pigeon went extinct
because of excess baggage charges and TSA screenings

So, just what was the first victim of humanity to go extinct?  There are several contenders among the larger fauna of the most recent Ice Age, such as the cave bear, cave lion, cave talking-with-an-English-accent gekko, and the woolly mammoth.  It appears that cave men actively hunted three of these species and bought insurance from one of them, so they could have had a role in their demise, but let's face the facts: there were way too few cave people running around and their weapons weren't all that sophisticated (we had yet to master the Predator Drone), so the only real culprit had to be ol' Mother Nature and her climate-change-thing.

Some animals we  know for certain that went extinct because of humans include the dodo-bird, the passenger pigeon (pictured in model form in flight above) and something called the pig-footed bandicoot, a relative of that adrenaline-junkie Crash Bandicoot of video-game fame.
Crikey! Cousin Pig-footie has popped his clogs!

But the biggest mass-extinction event ever recorded (but not by humans because we hadn't quite evolved from a thing that rather looked like a hairy shrew) wasn't caused by humans or Mother Nature's hot-flashes, but by a big-ass meteor that slammed into the Earth, creating the Gulf of Mexico, and destroying everything on land with a body weight of over 20 lbs.  Nothing like a piece of space-crap to ruin an otherwise promising career as a species.

But hold your extinct North American horses and camels: it seems that those brainy geneticists who brought us Dolly the Cloned Sheep have progressed to the point where they can use DNA from extinct species to implant them into sperm and eggs of currently living related species, which would then result in an elephant giving birth to a woolly mammoth.  This could be done with all kinds of recently extinct  animals (sorry dinosaurs!), including the Laughing Owl, the Palestinian Painted Frog and something called the Kaua'i 'O 'o, a honey-eating bird from Hawaii who went extinct when the bees whose honey it ate also went extinct because the tree the very last hive was hanging from got bulldozed to build yet another Hawaiian tourist hotel-for-the-Howli.
Fuckin' tourist-trash!

There are currently three schools of thought regarding the ethics of scientists actually bringing a species back from extinction, and they fall into these camps: those who think it's wrong for scientists to play God (yeah, right- like that's ever stopped them before!); those who say it is an obligation for humans to bring back species that we actually drove extinct; and those who were totally underwhelmed by the season 3 finale of "The Walking Dead" to notice that there was any kind of current ethics debate about anything going on.

As for me, I find myself (more often than I lose myself) gravitating towards Camp #2 (not Slaughterhouse 5 --that was a Kurt Vonnegut story where this survivor of the Dresden Firebombing of World War II gets kidnapped by aliens, stuck in an alien zoo and bread with a Playboy Centerfold.  Vonnegut was smoking some pretty heavy shit in the 60's).  I think it's on us to un-do the damage that we caused.  Besides, it would be cool to have dodo-birds back, wouldn't it?

In fact in this post, Adjunct Proff is having a contest to see which extinct species of the three pictured below you would like to see running, crawling, swimming or flying around once again.  Just choose one and in the Comments section, in 10,000 words or less, explain why scientists should de-extinct-ify that particular species.  The winning entry will be e-mailed to a scientist for consideration (no, I won't be sending it to Sheldon from Big Bang Theory --he's just a pretend scientist!)
"Penny?  Penny?  Penny?  I'm worried about our show going extinct.  Penny?"
So pick one of the three below and "gimmie one reason to stay here," --ah, give me a good reason for its reintroduction, and "I'll turn right back around" --umm, I'll pass it right along.
Baiji River Dolphin

                  Tasmanian Tiger
African Quagga


  1. I vote for African Quagga...not sure why exactly except the nose of that dolphin creeps me out and the those tigers are just bizarre looking. There's something hysterical about the Quagga, it looks like a zebra in the front and a donkey in the back, it's the mullet of the animal kingdom.

    1. "Mullet of the animal kingdom," lolz! :-D