Scientists hope test-tube embryos can save near-extinct white rhino. Is it right? Is it a smart?

Says Reuter that (*):

  • The northern white rhino is the world’s most endangered mammal, and its only two living members are a mother and daughter
  • scientists hope to use certain in-vitro fertilisation techniques to “create an embryo of a pure northern white rhino… [implant] it into a surroogate to gestate” in order to have the first (northern white) rhino calf born “Within three years”

Thomas Hildebrandt of Germany’s Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research People argues that this strategy is not innatural, because:

  • “it would simply correct a change in the ecosystem created by the human hunting of rhinos”
  • “The northern white rhino did not fail evolution, it failed because it was not bullet-proof. It was slaughtered”
  • [human action] “caused a disbalance in the ecosystem … and we have the tools in our hands to correct that.”

The problem here is not “innatural”. It is “simply”

The dark side of resurrecting species from extinction /img/last-male-northern-white-rhino.jpg
We ran out of stock of these, but don't worry madam. Next year's model is coming soon, and has a lots of improvements!

Personally, the concept that “rhinos failed because they were not bullet-proof” sounds a bit too much like saying that humans need gun control only because they are failing by not being bullet-proof. But I digress. Let’s focus on extinction of animals, for now.

The potentially big problem behind actions like this rhino saving program, and the whole attitude behind it, is very simple to describe: no matter how noble these actions are, they risk giving the general public the idea that it is possible to do the same with every other environmental “disbalance” we create, or have already created. “Resurrect” rhinos, and too many people will conclude that there is no real reason or hurry to preserve biodiversity. They would just go:

“why worry about bees? Heck, if we figure out, ten years after they’re extinct, that we did need bees after all, no problem. We can clone them back just like we did with the rhinos, right?”

(*) more on the same program here and here