Woolly Mammoths to Return

We could soon see woolly mammoths - or at least animals that are very like them - walking the earth once again. An American company called Colossal plans to use genetic engineering to add woolly mammoth traits to Asian elephants. They claim the resulting hybrid will look and sound like a woolly mammoth. They also say it will be able to live in the same environment under the same conditions that mammoths once did.

Woolly mammoths coexisted with early humans, and they mostly went extinct about 10 000 years ago, with a few lasting until 4000 years ago. They were similar in size to today’s African elephants, although they had very long tusks and a coat of hair.

A digital image of a woolly mammoth
A digital image of a woolly mammoth (source)

Colossal claims the de-extinction of the woolly mammoth could help us fight climate change. The intended home for the mammoths is Pleistocene Park in Siberia, Russia. At Pleistocene Park, scientists are trying to repopulate the area with large animals that, through their natural activities, will change the tundra to grassland. If achieved, this will lead to less emission of greenhouse gases.

However, some critics think there are better ways to help the environment. For one thing, it will take a long time to raise enough mammoths to have any significant environmental impact. Others compare the project to Jurassic Park to point out that genetic engineering can have unexpected results.

Sources: colossal.com, wikipedia.org, theguardian.com, wikipedia.org, washingtonpost.com

For source links, see the article on ESLNewsStories.com

Worksheet with activities

Audio

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Useful Language

  • Genetic engineering (n) - making changes to the genes of a plant or animal
  • Trait (n) - a quality or characteristic
  • Extinct (adj) - not existing now
  • Tusk (n) - one of two long, curved teeth that stick out of the mouths of some animals
  • De-extinction (n) - making something no longer extinct
  • Intended (adj) - planned, wanted
  • Repopulate (v) - increase the numbers of something in a place after they have dropped
  • Tundra (n) - a large, flat area with frozen ground and no trees
  • Emission (n) - something that comes out of something else
  • Impact (n) - effect

Discussion

Discuss the following questions with your partner(s).

  1. How much do you want to see a woolly mammoth?
  2. How do you feel about genetic engineering in general?
  3. Do you eat genetically modified foods? Why or why not?
  4. Bringing back extinct animals - good idea or bad idea?
  5. Is animal extinction something we should try to prevent? Or is it a natural process?
  6. Do you think bringing back woolly mammoths could help the environment?
  7. What are some easier ways we could positively affect the environment?
  8. Can you imagine living in the past alongside woolly mammoths? How would you have felt about them at that time?
  9. If you could receive some new traits, what traits would you like to have?
  10. If you could visit a place like Jurassic Park, would you?