Documentaries on Woolly Mammoth Autopsy and Cloning Possibilities

Two documentaries focusing on the study of a remarkably well preserved female Woolly Mammoth carcase are due to be shown in the UK and the United States towards the end of this month.  Channel 4 (UK) will show “Woolly Mammoth: The Autopsy” on Sunday, November 23rd at 8pm.  Stateside viewers will be able to see a similar documentary entitled “How to Clone a Woolly Mammoth”, it will air on the Smithsonian Channel on November 29th.

The 40,000-year-old star of the show, is “Buttercup” a mature female Woolly Mammoth.  The frozen carcase was discovered back in 2013, when a research team from the Research Institute of Applied Ecology, the Russian Geographical Society and the North Eastern Federal University was exploring the remote Lyakhovsky islands, part of the Novosibirsk archipelago, situated in the Eastern Siberia Sea in the search for Woolly Mammoth fossil remains.  The scientists found that entombed within the ice, much of the front part of this Mammoth’s body was intact.  This was one of the best preserved specimens ever discovered and the television programme makers examine what these remains can tell us about these long extinct creatures and then the programmes discuss the prospect of scientists producing a clone.

When the body cavity of the Mammoth was examined, in places where it had begun to slightly thaw, a thick, red liquid could be encouraged to flow out of the flesh.  At the time this was described as “blood”. Although it may have contained constituents of blood, the television documentaries will explain in more detail what this was.  However, one thing that the field team could be confident about, this one of the best preserved Woolly Mammoths ever found.  Having a strong stomach is needed for this sort or work.  A nose peg/face mask is recommended, once the body starts to warm up, decomposition and putrefaction are not far away.

Returning a Woolly Mammoth, a species that has not been seen on this Earth for thousands of years, back from the dead.  This might sound like the stuff of science fiction, but the cloning of a Woolly Mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius), is a distinct possibility although probably not for at least another thirty or forty years – just a blink in geological time.

To read about the discovery of the Mammoth that is now called “Buttercup”: A Woolly Mammoth with Fresh Blood?

Should the Woolly Mammoth be Resurrected?

Will the Woolly Mammoth return?

Will the Woolly Mammoth return?

Picture Credit:  Everything Dinosaur

 It is likely that this elephant became mired in a bog and she probably succumbed to exhaustion, although an attack from predators is not ruled out as much of the rear portion of the skeleton has been lost and that which remains shows feeding damage.   Whether this was post-mortem, we at Everything Dinosaur are unable to say.

Whilst we at Everything Dinosaur are very much in favour of the study of these Siberian giants.  After all, actually examining the slowly thawing out flesh of such a creature provides science with so much more information than just the bones. We remain concerned about the moral and ethical issues involved in any cloning process.  True, scientists from Harvard University and from South Korea’s Sooam Biotech Research Foundation are trying to just that, to bring a Woolly Mammoth back by cloning, although both teams are going about it in slightly different ways.

We feel that certain questions have to be asked, for example, what contribution to overall genetic research would such a project make?  Indeed, is it right to focus on trying to resurrect the Mammoth when more resources could be directed at trying to save critically endangered flora and fauna that are still around.

We imagine a scenario, whereby, many Indian elephant females are subjected to experimentation and if a clone could be created, then there is the problem of surviving the lengthy gestation if a successful implanting into the womb of a surrogate mother could be achieved.

If the baby could survive to term, then there is the birth itself, or most likely a Caesarean section, as no commercial company would want to lose their “genetic investment” at this late stage.  If the baby survives, boy or girl (gender will probably be determined for it), then it could end up being rejected by what would already be a traumatised mother.  If the calf lives, we suspect there may be a number of unforeseen medical issues (as has been the case in the cloning a number of extant animals), then what sort of life would this young Woolly Mammoth have.

Could we See a Baby Woolly Mammoth in a Zoo in 2050?

Baby Woolly Mammoth - the New Lyuba?

Baby Woolly Mammoth – the New Lyuba?

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Possibly rejected by its own mother and never able to be part of a herd, this elephant, highly social by instinct, part of a species that had a childhood almost as long as a human’s childhood, would be totally isolated and alone.  It would have no references, no role models, no benchmark.  It would be a Woolly Mammoth or something resembling a Mammoth (depending on the proportion of Indian elephant DNA involved), but it would not know how to behave or act like a Mammoth.

We at Everything Dinosaur foresee a heart-breaking scene in a zoo, perhaps in the not too distant future, whereby, a shaggy, rough coated elephant is paraded in front of crowds of visitors to the great satisfaction and economic benefit to the institution that owns this genetic wonder.  For the animal itself, it would most probably be doomed to live an entirely unnatural existence with none of the social interactions that these elephants would crave.  Just as we have captured Orcas and displayed them at theme parks and we are now only being to understand the trauma we put these magnificent creatures through.

Being able to explore the flesh and blood of a long dead creature is of great importance to science.  We accept that one day in future the cloning of a Mammoth may indeed be possible.  But just because we can do something doesn’t make it right to do.  To clone a Mammoth would involve a tremendously dedicated team of scientists who would be pushing at the boundaries of our understanding of genetics, but just as with the study of the carcase itself, when it comes to the moral and ethical implications, a strong stomach will be required.

Let’s hope that the documentaries examine the ethical dimensions of cloning such as a creature as well as providing more information on how these ancient creatures lived and died.

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