RICHARD ORD: Some woolly thinking over return of the mammoth

When questioned about the spiralling costs of the 1980 movie Raise the Titanic, producer Lew Grade wryly observed that it may have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic.

How the new-look woolly mammoth might look (if you squint a bit).
How the new-look woolly mammoth might look (if you squint a bit).

Similar thoughts crossed my mind on hearing this week that millions are being poured into plans to reintroduce the woolly mammoth to the Arctic circle.

After whipping up a particularly effective Covid-19 vaccine in record time, scientists have now decided to resurrect the woolly mammoth. They appear emboldened by their recent successes.

That the mammoth has been extinct for a few million years is seen as a minor obstacle rather than a very thick brick wall barring their way.

You have to admire the confidence of our scientists. There’s probably an understandable swagger in their step at the moment. Where once they were the butt of the bully’s jokes, pilloried as egg heads and girlie swots, now they’re the modern day rock stars. Instead of peeping through microscopes behind closed doors, today they’re juggling their pipettes and test tubes like Tom Cruise behind the bar in Cocktail.

But while there was strong support for their efforts in finding a Covid vaccine (what with all the deaths and that), I don’t remember the public clamouring for a return of the mammoth.

If anything, the Jurassic Park movie series kinda poured cold water on the public’s appetite for resurrecting extinct creatures. Particularly the big ones.

Still, it might be fun to ride around on a once-extinct elephant or feed one at a zoo. Except the reason behind the plan to bring back the mammoth is not for our amusement, but an effort to bring balance to the environment of the Arctic circle! Where’s the fun in that?

Turns out that, back in the day (probably a Tuesday about four million years ago), the mammoth helped regulate the environment by trampling grass, knocking down trees and depositing huge piles of dung across the tundra.


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So the plan is to spend a good £12million or more fiddling with DNA to produce genetically modified elephants. Yep, they aren’t even real mammoths. Just fat hairy elephants! And they won’t be ready to stomp around the Arctic for a good 30 years.

In the spirit of Lew Grade, may I suggest they bypass the scientists and instead just knock up warm clothing for the elephants we have now and send them out to the Arctic.

It will be just as effective, far less complicated and - if you can imagine herds of elephants sporting padded puffer jackets, snow boots and fur-lined deerstalkers - a welcome moment of light relief in these difficult times.