While we may never see living velociraptors, there is a good chance that more recently extinct animals will eventually be revived. The idea is that skins, feathers, and even whole animals that are currently preserved in natural history museums can provide enough intact DNA to make cloning possible. So far there has been little success: an attempt by Australian scientists to bring back the Tasmanian tiger was cancelled due to the poor quality of the available DNA (then apparently revived by a consortium of universities), a project attempting to clone the Pyrenean Ibex has been unable to produce live animals, and a project approved in 1999 to revive the extinct Huia bird has not reported any results at all. There has only been discussion of cloning the fabled passenger pigeon. Scientists remain optimistic, however, that such cloning will eventually be achieved.
Like all technological advances, the cloning of extinct and endangered species is controversial, in no small part because the whiz-bang technology shifts attention away from the underlying causes of extinction, such as habitat loss, pollution, and excessive hunting and fishing. It makes little sense to reintroduce restored species while the numbers of their still-living cousins are still dwindling.
David Coe's short story, "The Christmas Count"(updated story link), is one take on what the results of such a successful cloning program might look like.
"You didn't read the article, did you?"Read "The Christmas Count" for free
I shrug and stare out the window. "I glanced at it. I thought it was—I don't know—talking about future stuff. I didn't realize they were doing it already, that they'd managed to bring back so many species."
"You read the papers. They have the technology. They might as well use it. I mean, what harm could come from this?"
- To learn more about extinct birds and the scientific prospects of restoring the species by cloning, check out Christopher Cokinos' Hope Is the Thing with Feathers: A Personal Chronicle of Vanished Birds.
- For a technical discussion of the use of cloning in conservation, see Holt et al. Reproduction 127:317-324 (2004).
Image: Passenger Pigeon (1829), From the Tour: Selections from John James Audubon's The Birds of America (1827-1838) at the National Gallery of Art.