Everyone sympathizes with endangered species, and few object to traditional conservation measures (limits on hunting, habitat preservation) that work—but they don’t work if habitats disappear or if numbers dwindle or vanish entirely. Radical measures are necessary, writes journalist O’Connor.
In this gripping overview of the current situation, the author examines the complex, high-tech, usually expensive, and often controversial efforts to save species in peril and even long-gone. The Florida panther was once thought extinct. Though it has been protected for years, cars kill a dozen or two per year, and experts agree that its current range is too small to ensure its survival. Today, no one hunts the great right whale, but no easy solution exists regarding the warming of the oceans and lack of genetic diversity, which may deliver the final blow for the species. Technology and captive breeding may have saved the African spray toad, but those methods are failing with the white rhinoceros. Researchers have not ruled out re-creating the extinct passenger pigeon and maybe even a Neanderthal from their DNA. O’Connor pauses regularly to address deep, often disturbing issues. When humans and animals compete for bare survival, who decides the division of resources? “Until we make space for other species on earth,” writes the author, “it won’t matter how many animals we bring back to the world, there just won’t be any place for them.” Evolution works fast. An animal bred in captivity adapts to captivity and may be unfit to survive in the wild. Under such conditions, is it even the same animal? A species is defined by far more than its DNA; if genetic legerdemain de-extincts a species, is the result anything more than a scientific tour de force?
A fascinating account of extreme efforts to stave off extinction, the ethics of these efforts, and an unsettling, not-terribly-optimistic analysis of their chances of success.