The Next Chapter·Book Report

Antanas Sileika looks at the ethics of bringing extinct species back to life in Britt Wray's book

The Next Chapter columnist reviews Rise of the Necrofauna: the Science, Ethics and Risks of De-extinction.
Antanas Sileika looks at the possible future of de-extinction as explored in the Rise of the Necrofauna. (Liudas Masys/Greystone Books)

"It's gone the way of the dodo." We used to hear that saying a lot. Well, the saying hasn't revived, but science could bring the dodo bird back and maybe other extinct animals too. The practice of reviving lost species is called de-extinction. Rise of the Necrofauna: the Science, Ethics and Risks of De-extinction by Britt Wray explores this new field.

Columnist Antanas Sileika share his thoughts on Rise of the Necrofauna and his interests in the area of de-extinction. This interview originally aired on Feb. 19, 2018.

A possible future

"First thing she says is 'forget about dinosaurs.' They've been gone for many millions of years. If we want to do de-extinction, there are different ways of doing it. You would look for animals which have become extinct in the more recent past, like woolly mammoths. They keep appearing out of nowhere. We hear these stories in the Siberian permafrost that suddenly someone finds a mammoth and they say things, like, 'You could cut a steak off it.' We forget how recent the mammoths are. They all went extinct about 4000 years ago, which sounds like a lot, but the pyramids were being built at that time, so that's still in human history."

Environmental benefits

"In a way, we have a debt to these types of animals to bring them back if we can, to correct an original sin. She talks a lot about rewilding, returning species to places from which they've disappeared. For example, beavers in the U.K. to help make more wetlands and wolves in the American West. When you bring back woolly mammoths, they have an impact on the environment." 

Addressing ethical questions

"There are all kinds of moral questions ethical questions, which I found really fascinating. It's like a philosophy of ecology on the subject of de-extinction, which sounds weird, but raises important questions, like if a woolly mammoth is made by a private company do they have the patent to it? Do they own the woolly mammoth and nobody else can have it? Or could they themselves be invasive species?"

Antanas Sileika's comments have been edited and condensed.