On March 15th, researchers and theorists from around the world gathered at the National Geographic Society in Washington, DC to discuss the real possibility of bringing species like the woolly mammoth, the passenger pigeon and the Cuban red macaw back from extinction. This first-ever TEDxDeExtinction conference was considered to be the global introduction to a new field in conservation biology, “de-extinction.” By closely examining the DNA of museum specimens, this emerging field of scientists hopes to incorporate the genes responsible for certain traits of the extinct species into the genome of a similar species.
During Friday’s talk, National Aquarium staff and our blue hyacinth macaw, Margaret, were on hand to talk to the 500+ attendees about the immediate changes we can make as a global society to PREVENT species extinction. As exciting as this new concept is, scientists have also voiced concern that de-extinction will distract from the conservation of species like the hyacinth macaw.
Native to the Patanal region of South America, hyacinth macaws are an endangered species. Similar to the Cuban red macaw – one of the species being discussed on stage as a candidate for de-extinction – habitat loss, local hunting practices and the pet trade are all factors contributing to the decline of hyacinth macaw populations in the wild. Unfortunately, more than a century after the extinction of the Cuban red macaw, birds like Margaret are still facing these human-imposed challenges to survival.
Margaret, now 24 years old, came to our organization from a private home. As is the case with many exotic pets, pet owners under-estimate size (from head to the tip of her tail, Margaret is about 3 ft. long!) and cost of care and eventually, can no longer care for the animal. Luckily, Margaret’s previous owner worked with the Aquarium to find her a good home. Margaret is now an advocate for the preservation of her species and others like her!
Stay tuned for more updates on TEDxDeExtinction!