For any of you Jurassic Park fans out there who have daydreamed about introducing extinct species to the present, your inner sci-fi geek will be excited to hear that modern technology continues to bring us one step closer to this dream every day. Fortunately (for those of you who actually understood the message behind JP), dinosaurs are not on the list of organisms to bring back to life, but some scientists believe that they can bring back ancient mammals or – more importantly – recently extinct animals.

According to World Wildlife Fund, it is estimated (repeat, estimated!) that “at least 10,000 species go extinct each year.” To make matters worse, a recent study found that we have lost about 52 percent of wildlife in only the past 50 years. With anthropogenic problems (i.e. pollution, climate change, habitat destruction, poaching and culling) wreaking havoc on the planet and its inhabitants, it’s hard to be optimistic about the futures for current animal species.

For that reason, a combination of cloning and “animal resurrection” has been suggested and tested to help humans get closer to deterring extinction rates. Though several experiments prove this idea is plausible, can we really say that bringing animals back from the dead is the best way to go about conservation?

Hold on, everyone! Here’s the down-low on animal resurrection.

Has it Been Done Before?

The simple answer: yes!

In 2009, scientists used preserved skin samples from an extinct Pyrenean ibex to replace the genetic material in the eggs of a domestic goat and clone an animal for the first time. Due to some issues with her lungs, the ibex kid died shortly after being welcomed into the world. Though ultimately unsuccessful (they were hoping to create a fully developed clone), the experiment definitely proved that the once sci-fi fantasy of bringing animals “back to life” was entirely possible.

Similar experiments were conducted in 2013, at the hands of scientist and professor Mike Archer. Using DNA found in sample tissues of an extinct gastric brooding frog, Archer’s team transferred in-tact gastric frog cells into the egg of a present-day frog species. After repeating this process for hundreds of eggs, one finally divided into an embryo. Though an embryo was formed, it didn’t make it to the final stages of development that are necessary to produce an independently functioning hybrid frog.

Though neither experiment resulted in a completely functioning organism, they both proved that, using DNA, the potential to re-establish the populations of extinct species may not be so far-fetched after all.

Current Research

While we did mention that bringing back dinosaurs may never be a possibility, we forgot to tell you about the little elephant in the room … or at least the potential one that might be arriving soon!

In the summer of 2013, a group of scientists working in Siberia discovered an approximately 10,000 year old wooly mammoth carcass with muscle (and blood!) tissues still in tact. DNA extracted from tissue samples is crucial to replicating an organism, so when scientists found the well-preserved carcass, work began immediately.

Just last year, South Korean scientists were given the rights to clone the wooly mammoth from some of the animal’s tissue samples. Hwang Woosuk, a stem cell scientist, plans on treating the tissues to a “nuclear transfer process” before implanting eggs into a live elephant. He hopes that, like the ibex cloning, an elephant will successfully serve as a surrogate for the mammoth/elephant egg.

Is Bringing Animals Back to Life Really the Best Way to Go?

While resurrection does give us hope that we could repopulate extinct species and restore the delicate balance of the world’s ecosystems that rely on these animals, it does raise the question of whether this is something we should invest our time and resources in. After all, there is more involved in the extinction of these animals than just low numbers … oftentimes environmental factors play a large role.

For example: in November of 2013, the western black rhinoceros was officially declared extinct as a result of habitat destruction and illegal poaching. While re-establishing black rhino populations via resurrection would theoretically be a good idea, what should we care about more: bringing back the black rhino or protecting the remaining six northern white rhinos fighting for survival in the midst of anthropogenic destruction?

If we rely on resurrection as the most promising chance for restoring the populations of extinct animals, we stand to lose sight of the plight of animals who have not yet gone extinct. Why bother extracting and replacing DNA samples of a wooly mammoth when we can stop the deterioration of African elephant populations?

Once an Animal is Cloned, Where Will They Go?

So, let’s say a previously extinct animal was brought back to life. Good work guys … but now what? The obvious answer would be to release animals into the habitats where they once thrived (i.e. reintroduce the Pyrenean ibex to it’s homeland in Spain) but, the answer is not that simple.

Many species have gone extinct, or are currently in danger of extinction, due to habitat loss. Take the jaguar for instance. Due to agriculture and aggressive cattle grazing in South America, the jaguar population now only has access to about 46 percent of their original range of habitat. As the result, there is not enough space or resources available to sustain a thriving population and their numbers have dropped down to around 15,000 individuals. If we were to repopulate the jaguars, but not restore their natural habitat, they would not be able to sustain themselves and would eventually fall back into the same fate they faced before.

What Can We Do?

The reality is, there are about seven billion humans roaming about the planet. We take up space with large cities, pollute the environment, poach and cull wild animals, and even destroy the planet’s ozone with our toxic waste products. If at least 10,000 animals go extinct each year because of the combined actions of seven billion people, how much of an increase do you expect to see in animal extinctions if our population reaches an estimated nine billion by the year 2050?

We use an incredible amount of resources and put a massive strain on the natural environment … but we don’t need to. We can all make a difference and help the world’s endangered species by learning how our everyday habits impact others down the line.

Deforestation is a huge contributor to the loss of species’ native habitats, incidentally, much of this deforestation is driven by agriculture and livestock production. By limiting your consumption of animal products, you can help to slow the deforestation of the world’s natural forests, plus doing so can even decrease your carbon footprint! By leaving meat off your plate, you can literally HALF your carbon footprint. So, while it is nice to know that we have the technology to bring back the world’s extinct species, how about we focus on protecting the ones who are still around first.

 Image source: Mark Round/Flickr