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Save an endangered species by domesticating it?


Is the only way to save Asian elephants from extinction in Thailand to domesticate them? That's the theory being presented by elephant breeder Laithonglian Meepan.

Called Thailand's "most successful elephant breeder," Meepan is trying to influence the future of the species by selectively breeding only the most docile elephants. He picks elephants that already get along with people, then breeds them so the young elephants can give rides to tourists, thereby generating the revenue he says is necessary to keep them alive in conjunction with human society.

According to a report on NPR's Science Friday, Meepan believes this is the only way to keep elephants alive in Thailand, where their natural habitat is shrinking and their wild population is rapidly declining.

Of course, breeding for character is how we domesticated cats and dogs -- but this is a rather extreme step for any other species, especially one as large as an elephant. As we move toward a world where certain species might only exist in zoos, is it ethical to plan on keeping a species alive only as a commercial venture? How many species could domestication really work for? And how many generations would it take to truly domesticate any wild species?

Beyond that, what will happen to the elephant's habitat if we give up on the species and say it can only live in captivity? And is an elephant really an elephant if it isn't allowed to be free?

Obviously, I'd rather see any species stay alive than go extinct, but the idea of domestication may present us with more questions than it does answers.


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