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mammoth 1Britain’s The Independent newspaper, second in Progressivism to The Guardian, reports that scientists may be able to clone a woolly mammoth within a human generation. There the problems start.

Nicknamed Buttercup, the 2.3-metre beast was discovered frozen in Siberia, having succumbed to swamps and predators some 40,000 years ago. She is missing a leg but her DNA promises to be remarkably sound. Korean researchers will now try to find an intact nucleus, containing an entire genome. Buttercup was only slightly larger than a modern Asian elephant, so a cloned offspring may be raised within a live surrogate mother.

Groovy, say some; we can feed them peanuts in zoos. The woolly babies can be booked for children’s birthday parties. Some twenty-five years from now, whatever products are hip can be named after Buttercup, or the baby, or after mammoths in general. Justin Bieber, by then getting his first full set of dentures and finished with parole, can buy a dozen of the beasties to romp around his ranch in Montana. That popular old standard by Henry Mancini, “The Baby Elephant Walk,” can be re-released, perhaps covered by Madonna’s great-granddaughter. Very rich and fat people, still enamoured with the “Paleo” diet, can visit swank LA restaurants and eat Paleo Mammoth-Burgers just as real Paleos did. That is the easy part.

The problem, befuddling journalists and scientists alike, is how to pack Progressive values into the news story.

Instant success came with Dr. Tori Herridge, a paleobiologist at London’s Natural History Museum, and supposedly “an expert in mammoth anatomy.” She cries halt.

mammoth 2Now, not to be unkind, but Dr. Herridge is no expert in elephants; she works with extinct mammoths, and only their bones, reassembling them in a splendid museum. So her knowledge of living pachyderms may be no better than ours. Then, she may just be a grump wanting to deprive children of mammoth rides at their local visiting carnival. Or she may be a person of taste, and wish to stick it to Mr. Bieber. Or she may be a loyal employee; worried that families will no longer flock to see her museum’s carefully-assembled mammoth skeleton from the Ice Age, when they can frolic with live ones across the street, at the competing “Mammoth Mart Fun Park.”

But it may be something else entirely. She says that the problem with:

…this kind of procedure is that you need to have an Asian elephant surrogate mum at some point; cloning a mammoth will require you to experiment on probably many, many Asian elephants’… Dr Herridge questioned ‘whether or not the justifications for cloning a mammoth are worth the suffering, the concerns of keeping an elephant in captivity, experimenting on her, making her go through 22-month pregnancy, to potentially give birth to something which won’t live, or to carry something which could be damaging to her. And all of those aspects… I don’t think that they are worth it; the reasons just aren’t there.’

She may have uncovered another 3M, or a Major Modern Moral issue; namely, a Woman Elephant’s Right to Choose.

This contemporary ethical dilemma has been hinted at before. Half of the world’s 600,000 African elephants, and 50,000 Asian elephants, are women (technically female, but ideologically-friendly terminology is important). During mating season, inconsiderate male elephants often refuse to ask permission before they mount a woman elephant for sex. Sure, the males are said to be “in musk” and out of their minds with passion, but that is a cheap excuse. So is the common justification that the women elephants “lead them on” with salacious behaviour, such as trunk-waving or presenting their flanks in an irresistible manner. It is the same old story; a few moments of pleasure for the bull elephant, followed by nearly two years of pregnancy for the woman elephant victim. Having the crime committed by human scientists, even groups of skilled artificial inseminators wearing their bull elephant costume, is no excuse.

Of course, it may not have to be rape or even fatal elephanticide on an elephantine scale. The scientists might get it right the first time. And even if it costs the world a few dozen women elephants, many people would not miss so few—they would have “Given their Lives for Science” just as Marie Curie did. But that ignores the point.

Project_365_Day_104_Mallard_attack_(5620251974)We are all animals together. If we cannot extend basic reproductive rights throughout the Animal Kingdom, then what is the point of ending more than fifty million human American pregnancies since 1973 and Roe v Wade? What is the justification for sparing America more than seventeen million unwanted black people, a Progressive might ask. What is the sense, then, in allowing a larger number of white women to remain childless while they find better boyfriends, or move to California to retrain as hairdressers? Or, of course, the one per cent who are rape victims? Male mallard ducks routinely gang-rape their women ducks, and if we do not stop it then humankind has only itself to blame.

Cynics, usually conservatives of course, ask about the cost—as Oscar Wilde said, they know the price of everything and the value of nothing. They ignore the problems of human unemployment, here and throughout the Less Developed World, which could be solved by hiring teams to counsel our sisters throughout the Animal Kingdom; in reproductive rights, in establishing anti-rape rapid response teams, and building shelters for the victims of male animal abuse (separated by species, perhaps, so that the leopard women and rabbit women are not housed together). Funding could be easily obtained by President Obama, by instructing the Federal Reserve System to print more money, as it does to sustain human bankers—and surely Nobel laureate Paul Krugman will agree as he did before. Eventually, after a few years of sensitisation, the newly-enlightened animals may take on the tasks themselves.

Of course we must be prudent and patient. We cannot hope to monitor and protect every member of all 8.7 million species at once. We could start with mammals, although many people with refined sensibilities would accuse us of criminal mammalocentrism. The more than 13 trillion fish would be hard to educate and reform; or the 1019 insects. Instead, focussing first on mammals because of easy access, rather than because of any alleged moral superiority, would be more managerially practical. There are, for example, only 172m water buffaloes within the far larger group of even-toed ungulates, much less mammals overall. But we must start somewhere.

We should have the mammal problem sorted, by the time that the first woolly mammoth arrives after 10,000 years. Then she (because we are hoping for a baby woman mammoth) will live free and without coercion or even prejudice, as she grows up, determines her sexual orientation and chooses a career. It would be a fitting start to President Hillary Clinton’s fourth term.

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1 reply to this post
  1. Re: Cloning ancient creatures. I just watched “Jurassic Park” yesterday on TV. It had a similar plot. It did not end well.

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