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10 Species We’d Like to See Come Back from Extinct

Scientists at TED said reviving extinct species could happen. The Daily Beast rounds up what should return.

It’s not just Jurassic Park anymore: scientists are making progress bringing back extinct animals through cloning, having even brought the Pyrenean ibex back to life, although it lived only for a few minutes. Australian researchers also reported last week that they successfully made embryos of a frog known as the Southern gastric brooding frog, although the embryos later died. So what does that mean for our favorite extinct animals? Scientists say it’s too soon speculate—and others warn of the unintended consequences of changing the ecosystem. But it’s not too soon to get the list ready of the species that should come back first—especially if we have to prepare our houses for a pet Tasmanian tiger. From a half-zebra, half-horse called a quagga to a white-spotted blue butterfly shut out of San Francisco by humans, see The Daily Beast’s picks for the species scientists should really be working on.

M. Spencer Green/AP


One of the most popular species we want to see again, the woolly mammoth, is also kind of one of the more likely to return to us since they went extinct between 3,000 and 10,000 years ago. Scientists warned in The New York Times that bringing the species back will most likely be limited to the species that died out within the last 200,000 years. And given that woolly mammoths lived in Arctic atmospheres, there’s a good chance its DNA has been preserved somehow. The woolly mammoth is high up there on scientists’ list of species to bring back as well, with scientists in Russia and South Korea working to create a living specimen using the DNA-storing nucleus of a mammoth cell and an Asian elephant egg—although no one has ever been able to harvest eggs from an elephant, despite appearing to be a close relative to the woolly mammoth. Maybe it’s too soon to tell Sarah Palin she might have a new neighbor in Alaska, but still feasible enough to be featured on the TEDextinct poster last week.

Torsten Blackwood/AFP/Getty

Tasmanian Tiger

Maybe there’s some guilt at work here. Researchers definitively concluded in January that humans alone were responsible for the extinction of Australia’s iconic Tasmanian tiger at the start of the 20th century. Also known as the thylacine, they went extinct as the Tasmanian government encouraged people to hunt the tiger and paid excessive bounties between 1895 and 1909. In 1933, the last known Tasmanian tiger was captured and died at the Hobart Zoo in 1936. Given how recently the Tasmanian tiger died off, the species was listed as one of the candidates to be revived at a conference at the ideas conference TED. Scientists announced in 2008 that DNA had been extracted from a gene from a persevered Tasmanian tiger. Maybe this time, bounties won’t be offered to hunt down the Tasmanian tiger—although it might be time to tell sheep to watch out.

Hulton Archive, via Getty


A zebra species that lived in South Africa, the last living quagga died in 1883 at an Amsterdam zoo. No, your eyes are not deceiving you: the quagga really does look like a crossbreed of a horse and a zebra. Thought to be a fourth species of the zebra known as the equus quagga (say that three times fast), the quagga were only striped on the front half of their bodies and were a creamy, light brown color. Like the Tasmanian tiger, the quagga’s death is attributed to aggressive hunting for food and its hide was used to make grainbags and leather.  But that’s not all: scientists now think the quagga was actually a subspecies that mated with the local plains zebra so its genes never died out. That alone makes the quagga a good candidate to come back, since the gene pool is believed to be out in the universe already. In 1987, the Quagga Breeding Project was launched, and many of the foals born in the breeding program by 2006 closely resembled the quagga. Just be prepared for South Africa’s current turbulent politics, quagga.

Xerces Blue Butterflies

San Francisco will always be a city with real estate issues—and the first victim appears to the Xerces Blue butterfly, shut out of the area by excessive population growth in the late 19th century and early 20th century. With white-spotted blue wings, the Xerces Blue lived in the sand dunes of San Francisco and was last seen in the early 1940s in the Golden Gate Recreational Area. The Xerces Blue is believed to have been replaced in the ecosystem by a local ant population. Some scientists have hopes of bringing back the Xerces blue since an extremely similar species, the Silvery Blue, has survived—meaning there could be a similar DNA universe. Ants, watch out.

Colin Keates, via Getty

Saber-tooth Tiger

No this isn’t referring to women who are more predatory hitting on younger men than cougars. The actual saber-tooth tiger went extinct 12,000 years ago, although the exact cause is not yet known after a recent study disproved previous beliefs that the big cats starved to death—although they did prey on slow-witted animals, like modern cats. So could it be brought back? It could be possible—there are well-perserved specimens from California’s La Brea tar pits and the tigers are pretty closely related to the lion, so the chances are better than other species. But don’t think about adopting one so fast: the tiger’s canines were almost a foot long. That could be a safety issue alone, never mind the kitty dental bills.

DPA, via Landov

Dodo bird

Remember when you told your friend your boyfriend might come back and she said he had gone “the way of the dodo”? Well it’s possible you could shut her up next time. The go-to species when talking about extinction, the dodo bird was last seen in 1662 on the island of Mauritius. Since aggressive human hunting was the cause of the dodo’s extinction and its name is derived from the Latin word for crazy, it’s not totally unsurprising that nobody noticed for a couple hundred years that the poor yellow-legged bird had even gone extinct. In the 19th century, interest grew in the long-dead bird when scientific evidence of it was found in a swamp in Mauritius. So that’s a good sign, already, right? Maybe—in 2002, scientists cut into the world’s best-preserved dodo's foot bone, and research is being done to see if its genome can be resurrected. But does the world really need another pigeon species (yes, the dodo was a pigeon)?

De Agostini Picture Library, via Getty

“Basal Bird” Species

Only recently discovered as having existed last week, bringing back these four-winged Chinese birds could be a bit of a longshot—never mind that they lived 11 million years ago. Their discovery is important in the evolution of flight, Chinese scientists said. But they actually used their hind limbs for a type of locomotion (not the dance sadly but the extremely slow form of terrestrial travel)—those must have been some strong wings. If the poor dodo was brought back with these four-winged beasts, it seems like an unfair competition.

Henrik Grönvold/Public Domain

Pink-Headed Duck

In the animal world, the pink-headed duck must have been very popular if everybody followed the rule “on Wednesdays we wear pink.” The poor pink-headed duck, native to India, Bangladesh, and Burma, was last seen in 1935, likely dying from a combination of hunting and habitat loss. It must have been fairly easy to hunt since it has an easily noticeable pink head and also was known for being shy and secretive. Note to animals fighting off extinction: learn to be aggressive! But will the pink-headed duck become the new accessory? This one is certainly more than likely, since it actually has been suspected to have been brought back from extinction in the early 1990s, with a population thought to be less than 50. Always secretive these ducks, scientists have been unable to confirm its exact status.

Michael McCoy, via Getty

Emoia Skink

It’s hard to spot lizards in Hawaii’s greenery, but this skink always stood out with an azure-blue striped tail. The skink, with the species name the Emoia impar, was last seen around Hawaii in the 1960s but was not declared extinct until much later. Unfortunately for the Emoia impar, another skink has pretty much taken up its place in the ecosystem. Although it hasn’t appeared on any of the scientists’ list to bring back, the Emoia impar could be a good candidate, since it still has close relatives on the Hawaiian islands. But it would be immediately vulnerable, as the beautiful blue tail appears to be perfect to make lizard-skin leather.

Martin Meissner/AP


So what about homo sapiens’ own ancestor, the Neanderthal? There are scientists who are sequencing the Neanderthal genome, and will publish their findings later this year. The Neanderthal went extinct 25,000 years ago, with the exact reason unknown. A recent study concluded the Neanderthal’s giant bulging eyes (not because of excessive staring like your mom might have suggested would get you in trouble) were the culprit because too much of its brainpower was devoted to vision and body control and not higher-process thinking). Since they are our ancestors, finding similar DNA shouldn’t be hard—and there’s evidence that Neanderthals and modern humans mated back in the day.  It’s no romantic comedy though, it’s likely modern humans overtook their giant-bulging-eye gene pool and melded them into us. Forgive and forget, Neanderthals?