I’ve heard Genetic Rescue Foundation is all about de-extinction.  What about living species?

Don’t believe everything you hear on the grapevine!  We are interested in improving the tools for restoring damaged ecosystems and these are very varied - captive breeding, artificial reproductive technologies, reintroductions and “de-extinction”.  Our first major project was the Kakapo 125+ project which sequenced the genomes of all living kakapo to aid conservation efforts. Although we are committed to advancing technologies which will make de-extinction possible, our projects are also chosen because they will also be of immediate benefit to living species.  

So this “de-extinction” is just Jurassic Park Kiwi style right?

Yeah nah.  Jurassic Park is fiction (We even left out “science” because there is precious little of that in the plot).  Our focus is 100% on helping existing ecosystems - albeit with missing parts. We are not about just getting back the big birds so we can create a moa fun park.  Once we’ve got the ecosystem back to where it was our plan would be to step back and let it do it’s thing. In saying that, imagine how cool Kahurangi National Park would be with moa!

Won’t all “de-extinct” species just be hybrids/chimera?

There is quite a bit of confusion around the term “de-extinction”.  We define it as the re-establishment of a previously extinct organism so it is genetically and functionally equivalent to a captive-reared animal from an unbroken genetic line.  What we mean by that is that a captive reared animal has some epigenetic differences and isn’t the same as a wild one. However, it is sufficiently similar that it can be released into the wild.  Not every de-extinction programme is taking the same approach and we realise that ours will come with a lot of challenges. We think that a moa (or huia or bush wren) isn’t a moa if it is half chicken and we think you’ll agree with us!

Aren’t you just syphoning money away from other conservation projects?

Absolutely not, no way!  We run projects supporting conservation of living species and the technologies developed through our de-extinction programme will be directly applicable to living species. We are funded locally and internationally so we are bringing resources to New Zealand conservation rather than taking any away.  And one last thing - any animal is going to need a place to live - our work will drive up the importance of restoring some of our most damaged ecosystems such as those in Eastern New Zealand. For this reason, we’ll be working with other organisations to do just that.

When will I be able to see a living moa?

It won’t be next week.  We are working with some incredible people around the world who are pushing the limits to make de-extinction a reality but there is a lot more that needs to be done.  We expect that the first “de-extinction” will be within the next 5-10 years but are prepared that our work may take considerably longer due to added rigour we are working to.  The moral of the story - It doesn’t take long to make a species go extinct but it takes much longer to bring it back!

Will you be bringing back other species beside koreke and moa?

Yes.  We have specifically chosen these two species because of the different contributions they make to helping us make this a reality.  We would love to work with huia, bush wrens and laughing owls, to name a few, but we had to start somewhere. If you have some time and expertise, how about you give us a hand!

How can I help?

We are a non-profit organisation run off donations of time and money.  If you have a passion for putting a stop to extinction and can help with bioinformatics, media relations, legal and accountancy services or fundraising we would love to hear from you.  You can also donate to Genetic Rescue Foundation [LINK] or just spread the word [FB] [Twitter] If you are a researcher and would like to collaborate with us we would be delighted to talk to you.