mammoth protection

Great auk coming back from extinction; woolly mammoth needs protection

After almost 200 years, the Great auk - an extinct species of bird - could be making a comeback, whilst the woolly mammoth may become a protected species to stop the ivory trade of excavated tusks, a first for wildlife and conservation trade rules.

Researchers meeting at the International Centre for Life in Newcastle discussed reintroducing the extinct Great auk onto the Farne islands off the north-east coast of England, according to Zee News.

The penguin-sized, flightless bird used to range from Northern Europe to Iceland, Canada and the US and bred on isolated, rocky islands with easy access to the sea, spending most of its life living in the ocean. Its final extinction occurred in the mid-19th century.

Like the famous Dodo, the Great auk’s flightlessness caused it to be vulnerable to hunting, with trade in its meat and feathers reaching an industrial scale, Zee News reports. There were attempts to regulate the hunting of the bird as far back as the 16th century, yet the slaughter of the last known colony occurred in 1844 on an island near Iceland.

The Telegraph reported recently that Revive and Restore, a research institute that endeavours to ‘genetically rescue’ endangered and extinct species, claims it can ‘recreate the species and gradually restore it to its old breeding grounds.’

It plans to take Great auk DNA from fossils and preserved organs and then sequence the bird’s genetic code (genome) using digital data. The scientists would edit the genes onto the cells of the auk’s closest relative, the Razorbill. A bird big enough, such as the goose, would have the fertilised embryos implanted into it, so it could lay a Great auk egg.

This project is one of many ‘de-extinction’ ventures: the heath hen, passenger pigeon and the long-dead woolly mammoth are some of the species being considered suitable to be ‘genetically rescued.’  

The woolly mammoth is also being considered for legal protection under wildlife and conservation trade rules.

Extinct for over 4,000 years, the mammoth is a direct relation of the modern elephant and, like its kin, the animal’s ivory has become a lucrative export, especially in Russia.

The legal protection would be made under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) and could mean that the woolly mammoth is the first extinct animal to be given this security.

According to Tech Times, giving the mammoth this protection is an attempt to end the laundering of elephant tusks amid concerns that the massive ivory trade has severely impacted the population of modern-day elephants, particularly in Africa and Asia.

Climate change has caused the export of mammoth ivory to become a lucrative business in Russia, as huge amounts of their tusks have been unearthed in the Siberian tundra because of climate change. A rise in temperature has melted the permafrost, where the tusks lay previously hidden. Approximately 150 million mammoth bodies are said to be underneath the tundra and Russia currently exports around 100 tons of ivory per year to China and Vietnam.

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