Lions and tigers and DNA banks: Point Defiance Zoo welcomes Sumatran Tiger, raises ethical concerns

By Karlee Robinson

Last Thursday, Mohan, a male Sumatran tiger was introduced to Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium. Mohan was brought to the local Tacoma zoo from Sacramento, CA. His visit is justified by reproductive purposes. The intention is to contrive (ideally) naturally occurring processes: artificially inseminating our local tiger, Kali.

I attended the zoo and aquarium, exploring the enclosures and learning about the character of Sumatran tigers. Tigers are highly antisocial creatures, making natural mating extremely dangerous outside of the wild — it is my understanding that artificial insemination was a decision concluded upon after careful thought regarding the tigers’ well-being.

Mohan’s visit serves two positive roles: to attract visitors, supporting the financial demands of maintaining zoos and to support the broader Sumatran tiger species’ preservation. With this, however, comes necessary consideration of human impact on extinction rates and efforts to reverse its momentum (efforts specifically made possible by advancements in science and technology).

The number one cause for a species’ extinction is human impact. Human impact ranges from greenhouse emissions, to land waste and the broader effects of industrialization. The ironic twist: we’re now utilizing these industrial  resources to ‘reverse’ the damage industrialization has personally inflicted.

After acknowledging this, arguments that extinction is a natural process (only arguably valid if a species’ extinction is entirely unrelated to human impact) are stripped of any legitimacy. There’s a negative correlation between the progress mankind achieves in technology/production and biodiversity.

Biodiversity is important because ecosystems develop a dynamic distinct to the members of their given community. With the extinction of one species comes the potential extinction of others dependent on the former’s ecological role. Additionally, biodiversity offers broader (however more ambiguous) benefits relating to progress made possible from access to variation.

Both historically and currently, however, biodiversity has been exponentially compromised for human advantage. Mohan’s visit stresses the importance of conservation efforts, illustrating the complexity of preserving endangered species, furthermore, arousing the more contentious topic of DNA banks.

DNA banks are exactly as they sound: secure, long term storage of individuals’ genetic material. When a species goes extinct, scientists preserve their DNA to later appropriate when research allows action to double ambition. The idea behind DNA banks is that when rising to the required faculty, we can clone what we’ve already exhausted, abused and taken advantage of. We’re mistaking progress for saving our backs from irreversible exploitation.

Considering overpopulation and limited resources, biodiversity is a multifaceted discussion: deciding whether or not we can facilitate species we aren’t currently responsible for. No doubt there are differences in today’s environment, compared to that which (now extinct) species left; moreover, does our environment have the faculty to support the reintroduction of species? Only to a shallow degree do physical resemblances equate the indispensable quality of a species. It’s increasingly apparent that our ambition is vested too predominantly in the headspace of quantity over quality: shooting for forward momentum, but disregarding the relevance of the motion’s context and whether the context renders larger significance.

Where these questions involve too broad a field of knowledge for one to confidently answer, we can start by pulling apart the following consideration: What’s the mentality enlisted in these repeated calamities? I believe an obsession with the future, undermining the present, and a tendency to inconsistently reminisce about the past — reminiscing according to fluctuating moral — are responsible.

Rather than funding progress like DNA banks (action taken to reverse mistakes), we should direct funding and attention towards preventative measures. Had this already been the case,  Mohan’s visit would have been deemed unnecessary, along with his involvement in the fabrication of life.

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