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10 Ambitious Projects Aimed at Resurrecting Extinct Animals

by Estelle
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

Jurassic Park showed us all what a bad idea it is to try and bring giant reptiles back to life. After all, ginormous dinosaurs aren’t used to puny humans and will very likely squash us all like bugs, right?

Yet, this hasn’t deterred scientists from trying their best to resurrect a variety of extinct animals, including the T.Rex.

They haven’t quite succeeded yet—remember that poor goat that lived for only a couple of minutes? But they haven’t given up on their ambitious ideas to have long-dead animals walk the planet yet again.

Related: Top 10 Animals You Thought Were Extinct But Aren’t

10 Colossal’s Wooly Mammoth

Company wants to create hybrid elephant with extinct Woolly Mammoth DNA

While not all scientists believe that early humans were responsible for the demise of the woolly mammoth, most believe that these giant mammals lived alongside humans who hunted them for food. Woolly mammoths roamed the cold tundra until 1650 BC, grazing on grass and shrubs. When the icebergs started melting, the mammoths’ main food source was destroyed, and they became extinct.

Now, biotech start-up Colossal Biosciences wants to use DNA and expert knowledge to bring these giants back to life. The goal of their “de-extinction” project is to let newly created woolly mammoths loose in the Arctic tundra by 2027 so that they can enjoy the very ecosystem where the original mammoths once lived.

The company plans on doing this by combining mammoth DNA found under the ice in Siberia with that of an Asian elephant. The animal resulting from this procedure will be known as a “mammophant.”

But while the pros of this project include boosting elephant numbers and restoring landscapes that will slow climate change, ecological researchers have panned the idea. Citing the fact that a created animal can’t possibly exhibit identical behavior to that of the original woolly mammoth, researchers also believe that the logistics of such a project are simply unattainable.

So it seems that we’ll have to wait in anticipation for 2027 to arrive to see which argument wins.[1]

9 Bringing Back the Moa

The Moa – Giant Birds of Old New Zealand

Decades after the Polynesians inhabited New Zealand, the moa became extinct. This flightless bird ranged from chicken-sized to as tall as 10 feet (3 meters) tall. There were nine species of moa with a total estimated population of around 2.5 million.

At the time, the South Island giant moa was the tallest bird on earth, and the females often weighed over 500 pounds (227 kilograms). And because they couldn’t fly, they were easy targets for the meat that made up the majority of Māori meals at times. They reproduced at a slow rate, laying only one or two eggs at a time, and the moa population was completely decimated within 150 years.

In 2018, Harvard University scientists announced that they had put together a near-complete genome of one of the moa species, namely the little bush moa. If a completed genome is placed inside the egg of a modern species, scientists believe it will create an animal resembling the extinct species.

Which is exactly what these scientists are trying to do with the moa. At the same time, they’re also trying to reconstruct the dodo genome after it was revealed that scientists in Australia had successfully reconstructed the Tasmanian tiger genome.

In 2023, there aren’t any newly created moa species inhabiting the planet yet, but experts believe that a successful moa de-extinction isn’t that far off.[2]

8 Will the Saber-Toothed Tiger Live Again?

The Extraordinary Truth About The Saber Tooth Tiger | Extinct Animals | Real Wild

Saber-toothed tigers grew as large as today’s male polar bears—up to ten feet (3 meters) in length—and weighed nearly a ton.

They had no natural predators and hunted down bison, mammoths, and mastodons. They are distantly related to the cats we know today—with the species eventually succumbing to a combination of overhunting and climate change. In 2020, scientists mapped the DNA of the saber-toothed tiger for the first time. They learned that these animals likely used the endurance hunting technique and could see very well during the day.

And even though they’ve been extinct for 10,000 years, there is a growing interest in bringing saber-toothed cats back to life. Mapping their DNA is just one component of such a project, and it is widely believed that a lot of progress has been made during extensive research into bringing these cats back.

The only factor holding scientists back at the moment is that there is too little recovered DNA to work with. This doesn’t mean, however, that the experts won’t find a way around this obstacle and soon announce a return of one of the scariest apex predators that ever lived.[3]

7 The Lena Horse May Gallop Once More

Scientists discover 40,000 year old horse in Siberian permafrost

In August 2018, a group of researchers was searching for mammoth tusks in the Verkhoyansk region of Siberia when they stumbled across the remarkably well-preserved remains of a Lena foal in the permafrost of the Batagaika crater.

During their examinations of the specimen, scientists were able to extract blood and urine from the foal, which is believed to have been only two weeks old when it became stuck in heavy mud and died over 40,000 years ago.

In 2019, scientists announced they were confident they could bring the Lena horse species back to life using the blood samples they’d taken from the foal’s heart. They also stated that the tiny horse was officially the best-preserved discovery dating to the Ice Age.

At the time, researchers were still looking for a way to grow viable cells extracted from the blood samples, as well as different methods of using the internal organs to resurrect the Lena horse.[4]

6 Colossal and the Dodo

Return of the Dodo | How Science Is Bringing Ancient Animals Back To Life | Unveiled

The dodo bird is believed to have gone extinct in 1662, which means that modern researchers have had to go by historical paintings to ascertain what the bird truly looked like. There are no existing taxidermied examples of the dodo, with the last stuffed bird destroyed in a museum fire in 1755.

For a while there, many people refused to believe that the dodo even existed. But several yields of dodo bones proved them wrong. In 1832, scientists had already discovered a swamp in Mauritius so full of dodo bones that they merely had to dip their hands in the water to pull them out. In 2005, a group of researchers announced that they had discovered a massive cache of bird bones, including around 20 complete dodo skeletons, on a sugar cane plantation in Mauritius.

The dodo became extinct primarily because of overhunting and deforestation and because they initially weren’t afraid of humans who simply walked up to their nests and destroyed them.

Colossal Biosciences wants to give the dodo another chance at life by editing the genomes of the dodo’s modern relatives. Not all experts are convinced that the company will come anywhere close to realizing this goal. Still, Colossal is adamant that if they could fully develop the required genetic processes, the dodo can and will be resurrected.[5]

5 Resurrecting the Extinct Cave Lion

The Cave Lions of the Ice Age

Some scientists believe the ancient cave lion shared more traits with modern tigers than today’s lions. Still, most are of the opinion that the cave lion resembled the lions we know today and that it is their predecessor.

Cave lions were big animals, standing nearly 4 feet (1.2 meters) from the ground and growing to a length of 7 feet (2.1 meters). They fed on reindeer and bear cubs and inhabited a wide berth of land, including Canada, Alaska, Eurasia, and China.

The frozen bodies of two cave lion cubs were discovered in the permafrost in Siberia in 2018. While Sparta and Boris were initially believed to be siblings, new research showed that the two cubs lived and died 15,000 years apart. The lions were incredibly well preserved by the ice, with their fur and whiskers still intact.

Upon hearing of the discovery, Hwang Woo-suk, who is a geneticist from South Korea, immediately started working on a plan to de-extinct the cave lion by using tissue extracted from the cubs. He has yet to succeed, so only time will tell whether we’ll ever see the cave lion roaming the earth again.[6]

4 The Auroch Bull Returns… Maybe

The De-Extinction of the Aurochs

Speaking of roaming the earth, the auroch (wild ox) inhabited Poland during the Holocene Period. It migrated during the times that the global temperature rose to higher-than-normal levels.

These beasts grew up to six feet (1.8 meters) tall and sported massive horns of more than 4.5 feet (1.3 meters). They had a great impact on the humans around them, who painted their likenesses onto cave walls and sent them to battle Roman gladiators.

Aurochs could be found in Asia, India, and North Africa. The species eventually became extinct in 1627 due to hunting and the loss of habitat.

Since 2012, scientists have been working hard to bring the auroch bull back to life, using genetic tissue taken from modern cattle breeds. They are still working on this ambitious project, and the latest news is that they’re getting close to reaching their goal by continuously fine-tuning the back-breeding process.

If they succeed, we might see the auroch inhabiting deep forests once more while they restore lost ecosystems at the same time.[7]

3 Steppe Bison Might Make a Comeback

Arctic Bison Mummy!

Steppe bison inhabited large areas in North America, Asia, Europe, Canada, and Mexico—these regions are also collectively known as the Pleistocene bison belt.

They were large creatures that survived half of the Holocene period before dying out in much the same way as a lot of other ancient animals—mainly due to hunting and climate change. The oldest steppe bison fossil in the U.S. was found along the Porcupine River in 2006.

Dozens of fossils, including one nicknamed “Blue Babe,” have also been discovered in the permafrost in the Yukon. Blue Babe was so named because of the blue color of its skin caused by vivianite. The bison’s 36,000-year-old remains were so well-preserved that its cause of death was immediately evident: deep wounds suffered during a Beringian lion attack.

In 2016, a group of scientists announced that they would be attempting to clone a Canadian wood bison. Afterward, they would try to revive the steppe bison using what was left of a steppe bison tail found in the Siberian permafrost. Again, nothing has come of this process yet, but it doesn’t mean that scientists won’t have a breakthrough soon.[8]

2 Will the T. Rex Be Stomping about by 2050?

Dinosaurs Can Come Back in the Near Future

One of the most exciting, ongoing research projects undertaken by paleontologists and scientists around the world is the one that aims to bring back dinosaurs, in particular, the Tyrannosaurus Rex.

The consensus is that dinosaurs cannot be resurrected because their fossils are simply too old to provide any useful tissue. However, the Adam Smith Institute is not about to let this little fact keep them from trying to back-breed flightless birds using DNA isolation technology. Birds are generally seen as modern dinosaurs, and by isolating their DNA and incorporating gene technology, the T. Rex, as depicted in Jurassic Park, could be stomping about by 2050.

The institute is also planning to take its project further than just bringing the T. Rex back to life—the idea is to use the same technology to allow for the resurrection of more dinosaur species.[9]

1 Return of the Legendary Dire Wolf. Sort of.

The Life and Death (and Life Again) of Dire Wolves

The dire wolf may be a creature of legend, but it was also a real-life animal that became extinct along with the saber-toothed tigers and mammoths when the last ice age ended. Dire wolves were nothing like today’s wolves. In fact, they were so different that researchers want to create a unique classification for them.

These fascinating animals hunted mammoths, horses, and bison, and some of them were so focused on their prey that they landed up getting stuck and dying inside the La Brea tar pits. Long before the dire wolf was depicted on Game Of Thrones, however, Lois Schwarz began a project in 1987 to try and breed the species back to life.

Sort of.

What she’s been trying to do through the years is breed an animal that looks like the dire wolf but has the temperament of a dog. She started with the German Shepherd, working her way through the different dog breeds to mix them with, including Alaskan malamutes, until she finally bred the American Alsatian.

Of course, the American Alsatian is not a dire wolf and never will be, but the resemblance is there.

Scientists, in the meantime, were able to sequence dire wolf DNA. But because modern wolves share no genetics with the dire wolf, it is currently impossible to use back breeding techniques to bring the dire wolf species back to life.[10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

Estelle is a regular writer for Listverse.