Special Section: Political ecologies of extinction, edited by Bram Büscher

Ice and Ivory: the cryopolitics of mammoth de-extinction

Author: Charlotte A. Wrigley orcid logo (Higher School of Economics)

  • Ice and Ivory: the cryopolitics of mammoth de-extinction

    Special Section: Political ecologies of extinction, edited by Bram Büscher

    Ice and Ivory: the cryopolitics of mammoth de-extinction

    Author:

Abstract

Woolly mammoth tusk hunting has become a black-market industry in the Siberian region of Yakutia, where thawing permafrost due to climate change is revealing the bodies of thousands of mammoths. They are often in a state of incredible preservation, and their accompanying tusks can be sold to China where they are carved into ornaments as a marker of status. Alongside tusk hunting, another potential industry has emerged: de-extinction. Many of the mammoths found on the tundra have potentially viable DNA that might be used to resurrect a mammoth through genetic technology. Mammoth de-extinction is a cryopolitical process – a focus on the preservation and production of life at a genetic level through cold storage. 'Cryobanks' have emerged as a way to safeguard endangered and extinct species' genetic material, and forms part of a turn towards pre-empting conservation crises during what some scholars are calling the 'sixth great extinction.' The mammoth's body is broken down into pieces – tusks form luxury commodity chains, whilst flesh and blood is parceled into frozen genes and cells. The mammoth in the freezer is indicative of a reorganization of cold life in a warming world, with the specific cryopolitics found in the cryobank an attempt at extending human control over planetary processes that are now seemingly out of control. Drawing on fieldwork undertaken at the Mammoth Museum in Yakutsk, Siberia, and at the Natural History Museum's cryobank in London, I follow the mammoth from permafrost, to freezer, to back outside, and consider how her de-extinction is a response to a particular sort of future crisis –that of our own extinction.

Keywords: De-extinction, permafrost, Arctic, cryopolitics, rewilding

How to Cite:

Wrigley, C. A., (2021) “Ice and Ivory: the cryopolitics of mammoth de-extinction”, Journal of Political Ecology 28(1), p.782-803. doi: https://doi.org/10.2458/jpe.3030

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Published on
17 Oct 2021
Peer Reviewed