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extinction

Recreating a Galapagos tortoise?

How amazing would this be?

Lonesome George

Lonesome George, the late reptile prince of the Galapagos Islands, may be dead, but scientists now say he may not be the last giant tortoise of his species after all.

Researchers say they may be able to resurrect the Pinta Island subspecies by launching a cross-breeding program with 17 other tortoises found to contain genetic material similar to that of Lonesome George, who died June 24 at the Pacific Ocean archipelago off Ecuador’s coast after repeated failed efforts to reproduce.

Edwin Naula, director of the Galapagos National Park, said in a telephone interview on Thursday that the probability is high it can be accomplished.

“It would be the first time that a species was recovered after having been declared extinct,” Naula said.

But it won’t happen overnight.

“This is going to take about 100 to 150 years,” Naula added.

Scientists took DNA samples from 1,600 tortoises on Wolf volcano, and found the Pinta variety in 17, though their overall genetic makeup varied.

Through cross-breeding, “100 percent pure species” can be achieved, said Naula, a biologist.

None of us will live to see it, of course, so we’ll have to take their word for it. This would be a heck of an achievement if it actually happens. I don’t have any point to make, I just thought this was cool.

Rescuing fish

Wow.

Wildlife biologists [last week evacuated] two species of minnows from the shrinking waters of a West Texas river in the first of what could be several rescue operations involving fish affected by the state’s worst drought in decades.

Smalleye shiners and sharpnose shiners, the species being collected from the Brazos River about 175 miles northwest of Fort Worth, will be taken to the state’s fish hatchery near Possum Kingdom Lake. When drought conditions abate, the minnows will be returned to the river.

Scorching conditions have left the water hot, muddy and salty in the river’s Clear, Double Mountain and Salt forks. Because of the drought, the water levels were so low this year that the minnows — candidates to be listed as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act — didn’t have the 100 miles of river needed to reproduce.

Their life span is just two years, so scientists are scrambling to save the two species, which wildlife officials say are the most abundant fish in the upper Brazos and are found nowhere else in the world.

“If this drought continues for another year and they haven’t reproduced . . . we may lose the entire population,” said Gene Wilde, a fish ecology professor at Texas Tech who has spent much of his life studying fish in West Texas rivers.

There are a couple of other examples of this kind of rescue, but it’s pretty rare. I suppose one can make the case – a couple of the story’s commenters try – that this is natural selection in action, and we have no business messing with it. I don’t accept that reasoning, partly because the presence of modern humans has an outsized and unnatural effect on the ecosystem anyway, and partly because there may be direct negative effects on the human population in the area if these species were to vanish; who knows what might happen to plants and other animals if these fish were to go extinct? I’m no bio-ethicist, but I approve of this action.