Can we really justify trying to bring the mammoth back from extinction when all three species of living elephant are in danger of joining it? “If you’d interviewed me two or three years, ago, I would have been much more aggressive against it,” says Hildebrandt. He has changed his mind after struggling with efforts to conserve other large animals like the Sumatran rhino. Only a few hundred remain, and many are so old that no amount of assisted reproduction will help them to breed. “Our only option is to clone them,” he says.
Mammoth-cloning projects might act as an attractive funding magnet in a way that conservation projects of little-known rhinos cannot. “The mammoth may be able indirectly help future conservation projects, by developing cloning technologies that could help modern species,” says Hildebrandt. It’s a sobering thought: as impossible as cloning an extinct animal might sound, the one good reason to try is that it might prevent a number of species from suffering the same fate.