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Save Endangered Species; Make them Pets?

Australian biologist Michael Archer is hellbent to stop or reverse human-caused extinctions one way another. First he tried resurrecting the Thylacine, the mascot of tragically extinct animals, using DNA from museum specimens. Now, according to Time, he’s close to getting permission to let regular people keep endangered species as pets so they won’t go extinct in the wild.

Archer, a professor at the School of Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences at the University of New South Wales, has been pushing this idea to the public for a while, as this 2000 article from the Telegraph shows. He told both publications something like: “No animal that human beings have turned into a domestic pet has ever died out. It’s the ones we don’t value that become extinct.”

In particular Archer wants to try to save the quoll, a small marsupial with the spotted coat of a fawn. Quolls eat bugs, grubs and mice, but they’ve been wiped out by fox and cats. Cats often carry toxoplasmosis, which makes female quolls infertile, according the Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary, which that has been arduously them since 1986.

Predictably, as when anybody wants to try some last-chance idea to help an animal, another animal lover pops up to criticize and impede them. In this case, animal rights activists worry it will play into the hands of the pet industry. More seriously scientists worry whether people will be able to provide appropriate homes.

Captive breeding has already saved or helped many species, including the California condors, European bison and bald eagle.  The Przewalski’s horse, among other animals, only survives in captivity. The Bali starling, red wolf and black-footed ferret are making their way back. (Others have experimented with the more radical back-breeding, which uses remnant animals and those in other species that look like them.) The big shift here is moving the animals from pristine, scientific, objective settings to messy, emotional homes. (Though there is talk of licensing.)

“Quails make better pets than domestic cats!” says an information sheet from Warrawong. Archer has raised quolls and gushes over the experience. Meanwhile, the several quoll species have various alarming designations from the IUCN, but there are thousands left, not just a handful, so there’s still some time–and a little room to experiment with a radical idea of keeping them as pets. North America might still have a native, wild parrot if somebody had just taken on the now extinct Carolina Parakeet as a companion.

As for the Thylacine, it’s been a bumpy road. The project was called off because the DNA was too ragged, but it’s restarted and has made some progress with genetic mapping. Certainly saving quolls as pets would be easier than Archer’s other project of resurrecting the Thylacine through DNA.

Want to see animals in the wild or in rehabilitation centers? See AnimalTourism.com

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