Thursday, 30 May 2013

Introducing this blog

Most entries here are written in English, but this is a bilingual blog since posts addressed to a predominantly German readership will be written in German. This is my first language, so sorry if my English is still not quite as good as it should be.

As you’ve probably guessed by its title, this blog focuses on a controversial topic called “breeding-back”. Breeding-back is about trying to breed animals resembling a certain extinct species/subspecies or wild type, mainly from living descendants, – not just for fun, but in order to use the result as an authentic proxy for those animals in the wild. In fact, all of the species to be reconstructed by breeding-back are among the beasts that have been wiped out by human activities, such as hunting or habitat destruction.

The term was coined by two brothers back in the 1920ies who thought they could revive extinct species (more precisely, extinct wild types of a species) by crossing several domestic breeds they considered to be similar to the desired end result. During the last hundred years, breeding-back experiments have been conducted in order to reconstruct the Aurochs (the wild ancestor of cattle), the Tarpan (the west-Eurasian Wild horse) and other types of large mammals such as the Quagga (an extinct subspecies of the Plains zebra). There has been some effort to rebred domestic animals as well, such as the Cumberland Pig; those projects are not really of interest for this blog, since I want to focus on creating proxies for extinct wild animals.

Breeding-back usually utilizes old and less-derived domestic breeds that descend from the animals to be rebred. These may provide interesting information on the appearance and lifestyle of their respective extinct wild types and resemble it to a greater or lesser extent. The evolutional process of so-called dedomestication is closely connected to breeding-back and takes place when a population of domestic animals is abandoned and exposed to natural selection. Consequently, feral breeds of the species breeding-back focuses on are a very interesting subject that I am going to cover here as well.

With this blog I intend to provide you information on the various breeding-back attempts, their results and the authenticity of their results, as much as on the “material and methods” of the respective experiments and of course also the extinct animals they focus on. I will keep you on track with the progress of breeding-back and rewilding programmes, and share the results of my research on the extinct archetypes and the history of existing breeding-back attempts.

Reliable sources are not easy to find, as this field often is based on “Chinese whispers” throughout the literature and often is surprisingly emotionalized. There is little to no recent scientific literature on breeding-back per se. I want to provide you with unambiguous facts behind stories and myths. But this blog won’t get along without deductive reasoning and personal opinion. Actually, much in this field is not only about facts but on how to interpret these facts.

Luckily, breeding-back isn’t just something you can only read and hear about, you can also go out and explore things for yourself. I am going to present some reports of my various breeding-back related trips and what I might have learned from it.
You will also see some interviews with responsible people from different breeding-back projects.
Something I try to avoid is hyperbole and simplification. It should be made clear that each human-caused extinction leaves a gap in nature that cannot be filled again, and that breeding-back results can only imitate or approach the animals they are bred to resemble and hopefully occupy a similar ecologic niche when released into nature.

Having said all that, I hope that you will enjoy this journey through an exciting field of zoology that illustrates man’s interaction with nature as much as I do. 

1 comment:

  1. Just discovered your blog, Daniel, and am looking forward to going through your posts: keep it up!