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An Observer article published in The Japan Times on July 20 (titled “The quest is to clone a mammoth: The question is, should scientists do it?“) raises a passel of strong objections to the exciting idea of cloning a mammoth. Some scientists question the ethics of devoting so much time and money to an extinct species while so many living species currently hover on the brink of extinction themselves. Good point.

Under the “Three other potential candidates for cloning” sub-headline of the article, the case of the extinct passenger pigeon is mentioned. Conservationists love to raise the issue of the passenger pigeon, a gleaming example of a species that human beings deliberately extinguished in modern times. Usually it comes across as if our ancestors were a bunch of vicious and stupid slack-jawed yokels who “blasted” the birds “out of the skies.”

Yes, they did, but they had a good reason for it that conservationists never mention. Passenger pigeons reproduced in such out-of-control numbers that “vast flocks … once darkened the skies” literally. Those vast flocks were not a good thing. They damaged property and crops and left a layer of feces everywhere like snow that wouldn’t melt. They were not just a pest but a filthy public hygiene menace.

I don’t think I want the passenger pigeon back. Of course, its existence in the first place was not up to us, and as living creatures, they had their own worth. But I do not equate the moral value of an animal with the moral value of a human being. Resurrecting the passenger pigeon could be an environmental disaster.

grant piper
tokyo

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

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