New Orbit Magazine Issue 08; Feb 2020, The Future of Animals

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I have always loved animals.

This special issue is a treat for

me, and I hope you enjoy

reading it as much as I have

putting it together.

Both today and in this

story’s future, New Zealand

is home to many distinctive

heritage breeds of livestock

that are important for roles

they may not understand.

The corporation that owns

the rights to the gene

sequences of all domestic

dogs struggles with the

consequences of their

property going wild.

In a near future, a zoo

tended by a single janitor

stands nearly empty until a

new intern arrives, creating

strange exhibits and shifting

a paradigm or two.

Can other animals interact

with virtual reality in the

way humans can? What

purpose does VR serve

outside of the human


A human hunter takes on

extra-terrestrial animals

while bigger, badder aliens

hunt humans at home.

We are lucky enough to be

able to speak with rewilding

expert John Davis about one

amazing way in which

animals could help save the


An old friend passes away,

but isn't gone for long. A

story about pet cloning from

the animal perspective as

well as the owner.

Commercial pet cloning is

no longer a tale of the

future; it’s here. We talk

about each moral and

practical facet of the idea.

Taken for granted in many

science fiction works, we

explore the real-life logistics

behind a seldom-considered

topic; could we really eat


A surfer enters a zone

inhabited by humanengineered

sharks designed

to thrive on the seaborne

plastics that they

unavoidably ingest.

Facts behind the fiction: we

explore some real bioengineered

organisms that

can digest plastics and

convert it into organic



I love animals.

Since before I can remember, my loving

of animals has been one of my most

defining characteristics. Sure, I love

literature. Yes, I love technology. I also love

a good, old-fashioned political debate. But

animals? I love animals.

Among jobs and study in writing, I've

spent hundreds of volunteer hours at

native bird rescues, zoos, and domestic

rescue centres like the SPCA; as well as

working for years as a canine wilderness

adventure handler (which was exactly as

wild/chaotic/fun as it sounds). I've loved

every minute of them. I’ve shared a home

with dogs, cats, house-trained rabbits, rats,

pigeons, chickens, gerbils, frogs, freshwater

fish, and many more. As a child I wrote

encyclopaedias and bestiaries detailing

animals and ecosystems I’d invented

myself, or biologically legitimised mythical

creatures, or speculative future evolutions.

At the age of three or four I built a “zoo”

in my playhouse stocked with bugs and

insects I found in my back garden that I

would charge my parents a couple of

pennies to enter (I was saving up for a dog,

after all).

This special issue, as you must be able to

tell, is very important to me. Animals

feature a lot across many genres of fiction,

but writers often seem to experience

something of a blind spot in science fiction

and dystopias where animals – realistic,

important, living animals – are concerned.

All too often animals are the familiar props

in unfamiliar stories – in a desolate future

cityscape, post-human androids might

share the streets with centuries-unchanged

dogs and rats. A post-apocalyptic

countryside might see us riding the same

normal horses around the carcasses of cars

and trains and other long-dead technology.

Often, we’re so preoccupied with how the

future will affect us, or creatures very like

us, that we forget to consider how the

experiences of the billions of others around

us will shift just as severely – often more.

Or, often, we’ll see animals as passive

victims of the forward charge of human

conquest – unfortunate, suffering, but not

quite able to conceive of change, time, or

really much at all.

As usual, we’ve got them figured out all


This issue has some exceptional stories –

some personal favourites of my own – from

a wide range of perspectives. One discusses

how wild animal populations that have

been isolated from human interference

might be the only ones with the genetic

strength or survive off-world – a priceless

and underestimated resource that nature

has shaped right under our own nose.

Another sees the emerging commercial

industry of pet cloning through the eyes of

an elderly pet, as well as of those who love

him enough to replicate him, at great

personal expense. A story of my own

follows the commercial, capitalist path that

companies like Monsanto started us on in

the 1980s, custom-breeding and patenting

genomes for the very first time and renting

rights back to farmers to use. So far this

ability has only stretched to plant species

(generally food crops – a topic New orbit

has touched on before), but once that

kingdom line is inevitably crossed, who will

companies hold accountable for the species

that they own going out into the wild?

Animals are such a huge part of our

present. We nurture them, live with them,

and love them. We test on them,

eugenically alter them, and sometimes eat

them. We destroy wild animals’ homes to

make better ones for our pets – and we

restrict our pets to ensure better homes for

wildlife. For better or for worse (for us and

for them), animals are tethered to us across

all forays into the future.

I hope we can be better to them, and I

hope you enjoy dreaming of what becomes

of them in a hundred, two hundred, or

thousands of years’ time.

Happy musing,

Naomi Moore

Editor and Founder of New Orbit Magazine


Halfway up the rocky slope, Tama was starting to

question his life choices. He grabbed at a clump of

tussock to pull himself up.

“‘Get a PhD’, they said,” he muttered. “‘It’ll

be fun’, they said. Nobody mentioned agricultural

genetics research would mean having to play


“Go left, Tama!” shouted Doctor Makereti,

from a more comfortably level position far below

him. Tama obliged, stopping to curse when he

slipped into the embrace of a prickly gorse bush.

“That’s it!” the professor shouted as he

extricated himself. “Now make some noise!”

“Woof,” Tama said, under his breath. He

clapped his hands and let out a whoop. A dozen

sheep burst out of the patch of bush in front of

him and flowed down the rocky slope as easily as

if it were a flat paddock. Down below, Jack Davey

and his dogs set to work, herding them into the

temporary yards on the flat to join the rest of the


“Hey Tama, you missed one,” Makareti called.

He could swear she was grinning.

A few metres away a young ram stood atop a

rock, glaring at him. Tama leapt to an adjacent


“I should warn you that I’m an Aries,” he told

the sheep.

The ram seemed entirely unimpressed. Tama

edged closer, readying himself for a flying rugby

tackle. The ram anticipated his move and instead

of heading down the slope after his flock, he dived

straight over the edge of the small cliff. Tama

stepped to the edge and looked down. The ram

appeared to have backed himself into a dead end,

stuck in the scar of an old landslide with a big gap

between the outcrop he was perched on and stable


Angie came panting up the slope.

“Want me to go get the ropes?”

“Nah,” Tama stuck out his chest. “I can


“Go on, Ed Hillary,” she said, with a smile that

warmed him all the way to his toes. Blushing, not

stopping to think about it, he teetered from one

rock to the next until he was opposite the ram. It

regarded him without fear, ears pricked forward.

If he leaned out he should just be able to grab it.

Tama stretched out and got his hands on the rock

ledge the sheep was standing on. He reached one

hand out to grab a foreleg.

The ram saw his chance. With a wild bleat that

sounded more like a war cry, he charged forward,

using Tama’s body as a bridge. Tama let out a yelp

as heavy hooves pounded his head and back. With

a parting snort, the sheep trotted merrily down the

slope to join the rest of the flock. Tama eased

himself back off the ledge and followed it down.

Angie grinned at him. “Tama Titoko, Sheep

Whisperer,” she said.

He nodded solemnly. “I’m going to get some

business cards printed.”

The transport truck backed up to the pen, and

Davey lowered the ramp. The sheep were coaxed

into the truck, moving faster when they got a whiff

of the Lucerne hay placed there to entice them.

All the commotion had attracted an audience.

Some of the locals and their kids leaned on the

fence, watching.

“You’re from the university?” a woman in a

homespun jersey asked. “What would youse want

with a bunch of scrub sheep? That lot are only

good for dog tucker.”

Doctor Makareti never missed a chance to

educate people about her work.

“This population of Merino sheep has been

largely isolated in this valley for more than a

century. They’ve never been crossed with any

other sheep breeds. They thrive on poor quality

grazing, and they’re free of disease.”

A small boy climbed up and perched on the

wooden gate, swinging it back and forth. “Where

are you gonna take them?”

Makareti smiled. “Eventually, they’ll be going

up there.” She nodded to a point in the dimming

eastern sky. Little winking lights formed a

constellation, too regular to be anything but


“The Shipyards?” the woman said. “You’re

going to send sheep up there?”

“Space sheep!” the boy said, staring upwards.


“We’re collecting genetic material from all the

old breeds of farm animals in New Zealand,” the

Professor said. “Arapawa and Cheviot sheep,

Kunekune and Auckland Island pigs, seaweedeating

Enderby Island cattle and rabbits and many

more. They’ll all be producing frozen embryos to

go on the generation ships. No-one can know for

sure what sort of conditions the colonists will

encounter when they reach a new world, so we

want to have the broadest possible range of genetic

material available to them. And some of the

livestock will be living alongside the settlers as they

travel. It turns out goats and sheep actually adapt

very well to a low gravity environment.”

Tama helped Davey lift the ramp back up on

the truck.

“I think you’ve got something in your hair,”

Davey said. He watched Tama with some

amusement as the boy picked out a piece of sheep

dung. Tama hastily checked to see if Angie had

noticed, but she was talking to the kids.

“The things we do for love, eh?” Davey said.

“For science,” Tama said firmly, trying not to

blush. “The things we do for science.”

Davey laughed and walked off, calling to his


Tama followed him, picking bits of vegetation off

himself. A yellow slit eye was studying him from

between the slats of the truck. He rubbed the back of

his head, sure he could feel a hoof print.

“In three generations you little devils will probably

be flying the ship,” he said to the ram. From inside

the truck there came a bleat that sounded

suspiciously like a laugh. ◊


The first snow of the year crunched underfoot as

Grey Dog padded along the crest of a high, choppy

ridge. A valley more lush than most men could

conceive stretched out below her as if for endless

miles; as if this ridge was the point where the world

began, and everything, always, was set out ahead

of it.

This year had been a good one for the trees, she

thought absently as her eyes swept past the auburn

tones of the aspenwood forest walling the valley in

to the east. The twinkling sounds of songbirds and

small, chirping rodents heralded the yellowish

sunset as dusk settled on the park.

It was an even better year for Grey Dog, and

the scruffy, long-legged family loping diligently at

her either flank. This past spring had brought a

new generation of tender, suckling fawns and their

protective does, who had edged tentatively back

into this once arid valley with the hopes that

whatever had started hunting them there would

not come back.

Grey Dog had come back, and this year her

pack was the biggest it had ever been.

She made a signal that was felt more than it

was seen or heard, and White Feet and Black Dog

dug claws joyously in the rich volcanic soil to hurl

themselves past her down the ridge. She and six

others descended behind them at a conservative

pace, watching with sharp amber eyes as the two

scouts shot fast and silent around the periphery of

the grazing herd, distant enough not to disturb

them beyond the odd shuffle and huff, but close

enough by far to single out a fat, glossy doe and

alert the hunters behind them to the weakness she

carried on her front right ankle.

Grey Dog felt eyes on her from behind, and

confirmed the choice of the scouts. Red Ears stifled

a whine of excitement and Grey Dog watched with

contentment and pride as she – Grey Dog’s last

surviving yearling pup – took the lead with easy,

sweeping strides, hunching her head low beneath

broad, powerful shoulders. Unlike Red’s glaring

bright patches, her lean, hunterly shape was not by

design – for generations the Dog packs in this park

had been exhibiting more and greater wolfish

features, some in complement to (and others at

odds with) their carefully calculated ancestral


Grey Dog didn't think this, because she didn't

know. Instead, she watched with hawklike

precision as Black Dog and White Feet put

themselves between the fat doe and any route back

to the centre of the herd. Loping easily a hundred

feet behind Red Ears so as not to set off a

stampede, she sensed the triangulation of the rest

of the pack around her, silent and deliberate,

watched suspiciously by the dim, baleful eyes of a

hundred deer, and yet totally unseen.

The fat doe let out a sharp warning bark when

she finally spotted the danger on all sides, and took

off at a sprint as Red Ears barrelled after her over

the coarse, dewy grass.

Too slow. With the cumbersome limp on the

doe’s front leg – probably nothing more than a

twisted ankle – Red Ears was able to latch on to

her powerful haunch in only a second, drawing a

salty spray of blood from the hard muscle. Red

easily dodged a kick and fell back, slowing the pace

for No Tail to take a pass, then Long Hair, then

Blue Eyes.

Taking the lolling tongues and hard breaths of

her family as the sign they were nearing their

threshold, Grey Dog shot forward with her reserve

of deadly energy. She pierced the formation of Dogs

at the fat doe’s heels, and zeroed in on her sweatbeaded,

heaving neck as she fought for just a few

thundering steps more –

Jemima watched with distaste as the ugly

grey Dog locked jaws on the throat of a deer,

which stumbled to a halt and was mobbed by

no less than eight other scruffy ferals.

“You can turn that off,” she said,

uncurling her lip, as they started taking

chunks out of the deer’s still bellowing sides.

“I've seen plenty”.

“And it’s the animal rights goons that are

promoting this mess,” one white-haired

lawyer spat incredulously, waving a remote at

the screen. “The animal rights ones. They're all

for just leaving our property to go feral in the

wilderness and massacre livestock like this,


The video, which he had not turned off,

whipped around to an unflattering angle of

the game trapper that had filmed it, who was

voicing similar, louder, and significantly

more obscene complaints. “…six years ago,

these wolves were fucking Bigfoot… ridiculed

for talking about them – ‘Wolves?’ They said,

‘In 2048?’ – well now bloody look! Would you

look at what they're doing to my fucking

livelihood” –

“They’ve cut the deer population by

almost a third in the ten years we’ve

estimated that they’ve been free roaming in

Grand Cascadia,” a second lawyer

interrupted. “The deer are technically wild,

but they're contracted out to the registered

trappers and hunters that live in the park, so

he’s not wrong to be getting upset”.

“This is the third lot of indisputable video

evidence we've had of the feral Dogs in two

years – probably the twentieth worth

considering. The population’s getting high

enough now that we can no longer rely on

the public believing it’s all an urban legend.

They're right there, in plain sight.” CCI’s

company risk assessment officer scrolled

briskly through documents as she talked,

singling out and double-tapping a

spreadsheet filled with unappealing lists. “At

least eight packs in Grand Cascadia National

Park alone, population of four Dogs or

above, all under the Companion Canine

Institute’s jurisdiction. They're having a

profound effect. People have noticed. It’s a

matter of time before they kill somebody, and

this entire industry will come crashing

spectacularly down”.

Jemima gave the risk assessor a familiarly

exasperated look. It was in the nature of this

woman’s job to be overdramatic about the

outcomes of potential risks for the company,

but the glint of excitement in her eye about

the impending collapse of the companion

canine industry was, as always, a little much.

“Though you do have a point,” Jemima

said aloud, carrying on an internal discussion

that undoubtedly all of the suits in the room

had gleaned independently. “Publicly

discussed fears about “wild animals” coming

to attack people in their homes and gardens

is at an all-time high, no matter how quickly

we pull these videos off the internet.

Sometimes hundreds of miles from this, or

any, National Park.”

“Not only that,” Lawyer one, again, “But

in the past nine days the approval rating of

Dogs as companion animals has sunk

considerably.” He waved the remote again and

a dismal-looking graph appeared on the

projector. “Last focus group – this was on the

18 th – had a participant who voiced worries

about her own family dog turning feral. It’s

changing the perceptions the consumer has

within their own homes –”

Jemima threw a hand in the air.

“Hysteria’s setting in”.

“Relatively valid hysteria,” lawyer two

interjected, avoiding a glare. “These are our

Dogs. There is nowhere else they could have

come from. We own and designed every gene

code of every extant Dog to the strand. If one

of our Dogs can go feral, any of them could”.

The risk assessor proffered another

unwanted document. “Thus far we’ve shifted

most of the blame onto criminal breeders

and underground, unregistered animal

swaps, and til now it’s been working. But

there’s only so far it can all go before the

blame comes back onto us.”

Jemima waved it away with a tsk. Rubbed

her forehead to think for a second. “It’s still

just the one park, though?”

“One National Park. The park itself is –

well, the trappers are not happy. One of

them’s even reporting bears.”

Jemima rolled her eyes with a groan. “We

can’t be held accountable for that.”

“And, yet –” the risk assessor cast a couple

of headlines onto the projector. Flora and

Fauna Boom, and the Wolves in Grand Cascadia

National Park – Birds, Badgers, Beavers,

Butterflies: How Feral Dogs Brought Life Back to

the Wild – Inadvertent Rewilding sees The CCI

become National Park’s Unlikely Saviour. “– the

only people who aren't trying to tear our

throats out for letting patented products run

wild – and aggressively devolve – are the ones

who say we are accountable for it. By cutting

down the deer, Monsanto’s ferals have

reverted Grand Cascadia from a dustbowl.

Apparently the place is healthier than it’s

been since the 1980s. They're calling them

“Wild-state dogs”, and rewilders and eco-nuts

are suggesting we release more of them, into

other parks.”

“At least they were,” one of the lawyers

raised over Jemima’s audible horror. “Til it

got out that we had less-than-friendly

intentions towards the existing Cascadia wolf

packs, now they're up in arms about that.”

“They are not wolf packs,” Jemima

corrected firmly, gathering herself to stand.

“They're Dogs. Capital “D”. Trademarked,

patented, products, and entirely under our

jurisdiction. I don't care how much they’ve

reverted to this so-called “Wild-state”. This

has gone on long enough. You’ve got some

meetings with the USNPS today, yes?”

“The National Parks Service and the

EPA, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the

Department of Health and Agriculture –”

“Good.” Jemima interrupted, checking

the time. “Get it done, because this is a

powder-keg that I cannot deal with right now.

I’ve got the National Suppliers’ Companion

Canine Convention to oversee, opening

today, now, and I can't have people literally

crying wolf about a couple of ferals that

criminal breeders have let loose. Get rid of

them. Any means necessary.”

The suits all nodded dutifully. As

concerned as they looked, Jemima had a

begrudging confidence in the unlikable trio,

which allowed her to give them a

companionable nod back as she gathered her

things and left the conference room at a trot.


Soulless as the job would seem – as as

Jemima felt, sometimes – she had started

working for the Companion Canine Institute

for a pure and unfettered love of Dogs.

Everyone loved Dogs. They were America’s

favourite companion animal – some would

say the world’s, possibly even more beloved

as today’s generation of adults had grown up

in a world that had nearly been devoid of


A combination of irresponsible kennel

clubs and breeding practises, environmental

decline, breed specific legislation and the cost

of animal care had seen dogs as a species in

such a rapid decline that they were set to

follow the path of the majority of wild

animals into functional extinction.

Freshwater fish, once the most numerous pet

in the USA, had come to be a white elephant

that only corporate and political royalty

could keep. Cats were almost as rare.

But dogs – the Invisible Hand had seen

something worth saving in dogs.

Using the few examples of natural-born

dogs left in the world, and a complex array of

both husbandry and modern genetic

engineering, the newly-formed Companion

Canine Institute was able to reverse engineer

hundreds of then-extinct dog breeds not only

back into existence, but back into health;

physically perfect, behaviourally ideal, fit for

purpose and cheap to house. They patented

these newly invented genomes and rented the

rights to suppliers, who would breed

Dogs () and sell them to every household

in America, and across the world – as long as

they kept their membership paid up.

Heart rate high from her brisk walk,

Jemima felt comfort and confidence settle

back over her as she saw the first flags of the

convention she had rushed between

buildings to oversee. This was where she

preferred to be – not in stuffy conference

rooms, trying to muddle through logistical

minefields. Here, on the ground, in amongst

as many Dogs as the company had to offer.

The NSCCC was a yearly affair, built to

allow returning and potential suppliers – dog

farmers – to peruse the now thousands of

breeds that the CCI had on offer, as they

brought out more every year. The cavernous

ground floor of the CCI’s national

headquarters had been completely recarpeted

in shiny, green turf, and stalls

housing scientific illustrations and artificial

insemination mechanisms and games that

drew you into buying bags of CCI

recommended Dog food were sprinkled in

between hundreds of individual breed

displays, in which the best and most

appealing specimens of each purchasable

genome were sat in coat-coordinated lines, or

running off examples of tricks and skills.

Genetic engineers who’d dedicated their lives

to perfecting the coding of a single breed

stood proudly, and rightly so, beside the

outcomes of their efforts – the blueprints

from which every Dog in America would

eventually come.

The first wave of hundreds of visitors had

already crowded in, and Jemima allowed

herself to be carried along with them for a

moment. Despite the crowds, none of the

Dogs were nervous – it’d been bred out of

them. Artificial as such personalities may be,

they were docile, friendly, and many were

playing with what the untrained eye might

consider to be reckless abandon, but what

Jemima saw as a carefully coordinated

rhythm that customers – and, therefore,

suppliers – would go nuts for.

She paused for a moment at the expansive

display of a crowd favourite – the Border

Collie. It was often one of the most lavish

displays. Everyone loved the idea of a Border

Collie, but before CCI’s genetic tweaking

they had been too energetic, too selfdetermined,

too destructive by far. Bred to be

herding dogs, they craved a job – and if left

unsupervised in non-working family homes,

they'd go stir crazy, tear up couches, even

exhibit aggression towards children. Now,

they'd do exactly as they were told until given

another task, or they ran themselves to

exhaustion. A row of nine of them sat

peaceably on eye-level pedestals,

unsupervised, in order to showcase all of the

available colour variations (Black and white,

red and white, blue and white, red merle,

blue merle, black tricolour, blue tricolour,

red tricolour, and new-this-year edition of

blue merle tricolour, too), while an tenth and

eleventh joyously performed a complicated

agility course as if on a loop. A twelfth was

playing IQ games with members of the

crowd. Each of these display dogs – who were

all at their glossiest and prettiest and most

physically fit, at about nine months old – had

been fully trained in only a couple of months,

ready to perform their skills for prospective

suppliers. They weren't for sale – with a pang

of emotion, Jemima was forced to confront

that they’d each likely be destroyed before the

next year’s convention, unless one of the staff

members had taken a particular liking to one

and preferred to adopt it – but the highly

intelligent and, above all, easily trainable

traits that were on display were entirely

encoded within the gene packages that the

suppliers were clamouring to buy.

How they used those codes was largely up

to them. CCI collected a yearly fee from

suppliers, as well as a tiny commission per

animal sold. Considering the heritable good

behaviour, families could handle having two,

three, or even more Dogs at a time – and

given that each of them was engineered to

live no longer than nine years, this

commission added up to a considerable

amount over time.

Jemima turned away from the Border

Collies as the chill that always accompanied

the more sinister aspects of her profession

settled over her for a second. Almost all of

the suppliers that purchased gene codes

today would be taking them home – in the

form of a stable of bitches and vials of donor

sperm on ice, to formulate a healthy breeding

population – to basements and warehouses

where these Dogs – products – would become

little more than part of a factory assembly

line. Most of their puppies would be fine,

sold off spayed and neutered to households

who are intentionally none the wiser, but a

select few will always be caught in the gears of

the puppy mills behind the scenes.

Well, it was that or losing the species, right?

For the first few hours, the convention

didn't require a great deal of overseeing. CCI

was the biggest companion animal

organisation on the planet by miles, and

customers came flocking to them. They had

plenty of staff and experts to deal with all of

the questions that Dog farmers, massive pet

store chains, and related industry

professionals would have about expensive

add-on psychological traits, the heritability of

new coat types, the firmness of the guarantee

that new poodle hybrids were allergen free

(always 100%, unlike their less engineered

predecessors), and everything else under the


Jemima saw the mongrel before she saw

the shabbily dressed, un-corporate crowd

who stormed the convention wielding it.

It was an unaesthetically lanky, tricolour

thing with a long, thin snout and few

discernible breed-specific traits. It wasn't

alone. Three or four illegal hybrids paced

nervously at the heels of a mob of twelve,

fifteen – maybe even twenty protesters, who

split the crowd with intent to get to the

middle of the convention before they raised

their signs and started making demands.

“What is going on here?” Jemima hissed,

storming to the face of a sandy-blonde man

who seemed to be directing the rest. “How

did you get in?”

“Jemima Smith,” he said by way of

response, triumph of his face when he

recognised hers. “We know those are your

Dogs in Cascadia, and we know what you're

planning on doing with them.” He waved the

bunched-up lead of a shaggy brown and white

mongrel in her direction. “Everyone else

should, too.”

A palpable weight of stress and despair

could be felt forming in Jemima’s stomach as

the goons raised their signs and began to yell

shoddily written slogans at the confused

crowd – and, more importantly, the

comprehensive media teams that helped to

market and live stream the successful

convention every year.

“Dogs in Cascadia means wildlife in

Cascadia!” The blonde man led the chant as

some of his followers began handing leaflets

to the closest convention-goers. They, and a

couple of the signs in protesters’ hands, bore

screenshots from the video evidence that

Jemima’s suits had been showing her just this


“Pure breed not the only breed!”

Pressing her headset to her ear, Jemima

hissed a command to the onsite security.

They arrived before she had finished

dictating an email to an assistant, directing

him to confiscate any and all footage from

media representatives within the convention

to remove all traces of the protestors’

existence before it was rereleased to various

networks. She’d have to deal with the

livestreamers later.

“You can't own a species! You can’t own a


Twelve men descended on the protesting

group and, rather than attempt to move or

evict them, forcefully apprehended the

leashes of the three nervous mongrel dogs

from their hands.

After a moment of confusion, the

protesters began to raise their voices to


Jemima caught a snatch of the blonde

man’s increasingly hysterical protests.

“– our property! You can’t take these

from us, we own them – our dogs – they're

ours –” he was cut off when, after shoving a

security guard to get closer to his brown and

white mongrel, he was forced by three men

to the ground. With blood in his mouth and

a knee in his back, Jemima leaned over him

and hissed, “They are not yours. This illegally

obtained contraband will be confiscated and

destroyed, and the gene markers from their

autopsies will have the criminals who gave

them to you prosecuted to the full extent of

the law”.

convention, where they were met by police.

The illegally bred dogs were led or hefted into

closed-slat crates and carried off in the

opposite direction, deeper into the belly of

the CCI that had owned them before they

were born.

Seething with anger in the midst of a

convention that was getting gradually back

on track, Jemima dialled up to the room

she’d had the meeting in that morning.

“You’d better have a solution on hand,” she

said after their immediate pickup. “Things

are about to get a lot worse for this wild-state


“We just closed a couple of deals,” came

the voice of the dark-haired lawyer, who had

definitely heard about the crashing of the

convention already. “The National Parks

Service, the EPA, the Department of Health

and Agriculture – they're all in agreeance.

The risks are too high, profitability is down –

the Dogs are going to be eliminated.”

“When? How?” Jemima refused to feel

relief until the CCI was well and truly out of


The protesters were frantic, but wholly

disorganised. Half of the guards kept them

easily under control, while the other half

started herding spectators as far from the

scene as they could. There was little hope of

getting them out of earshot of the yelps, cries,

and growls of the almost-feral animals

Jemima’s team was confiscating, but at least

the ordeal was short lived.

Completely in awe of the consequences

their ridiculous actions, the protesters were

led noisily back out of the front doors of the

“Now.” The risk assessor. “We’re pulling

together a press conference that'll paint us as

the responsible party for owning and

containing the situation. At the same time,

we’re trying to clear the Airforce to pepper

the confirmed locations of all self-sustaining

wild-state populations with localised

explosives. It'll take out all the Dogs, and

then some, but within a couple of

generations the deer populations will be back

up to a profitable size. It'll be done before the

press statement is over”.

Finally, a break. “The government

agencies don’t have an issue with the

environmental damage that’ll cause? Like you

said, that'll take out more than Dogs”.

“There’ll be some noticeable short-term

issues, but it'll be only a year, two max, before

Cascadia is back to the state it was in before

the ferals got there.”

“Which is what they want?”

“Yes. Which is what they want.”

With a full belly, and half-closed eyes, Grey

Dog surveyed the blue-green morning of another

day in Grand Cascadia. She could hear the swell

of the hard-edged rivers and the ever-stronger music

of another generation of songbirds, over the

contented grumbling of her family at ease. She

raises her nose to howl over the valley – their valley.

She is lucky, that she’s never known the dustbowl

that it was before. Her family was lucky they'd

never see it again. As they join her howl, all that

matters is that, right now, they are somewhere

beautiful, and plentiful, and lush, and safe.

As the howl wended out over the woodland

below them, Grey Dog watched with mild

disinterest a distant black spot that whined noisily

overhead. As it passed directly above them, it shed

something, that fell slowly their way. Rocks?

Leaves? Feathers?

As the spots grew slowly from their points in

the sky, Grey Dog stretched comfortably, planted a

kiss on her yearling’s ears, and chose not to worry

about it. ◊

Rewilding Earth editor and expert John

Davis is pictured here overlooking Split

Rock Wildway in eastern Adirondack

Park — which is wilder today than it was

a century ago. New York’s greatest park

has regained thriving populations of

Black Bear, River Otter, Fisher, Bobcat,

Beaver, Bald Eagle, and Peregrine

Falcon; but has not yet regained its top

carnivores: Wolf and Puma.

The Rewilding Institute was formed

about 20 years ago by my friend and

mentor Dave Foreman, who is

something of a legend in conservation in

North America. He founded a radical

environmental movement, long ago,

where I volunteered with him for some

years. I was an environmental studies

major in college, and my parents were

very conservation minded. I've been

interested in nature throughout my life.

I volunteered straight out of college. I

hitchhiked out west and became an

Earth First volunteer, and thought I

could do that for a year or two, and then

get a “real job”. But, I grew so attached to

the cause and to my colleagues and

friends in the Earth First community,

that I just stayed in that line of work.

When we eventually broke away from

Earth First, we started a magazine called

Wild Earth, which was intended to serve


We now have an

online publication called Rewilding

Earth, modelled loosely on our earlier

publication Wild Earth. Our goal,

basically, is to reconnect big wild spaces

and restore their missing species. Our

focus for the time being is largely in

North America, but we want to become

much more global. We’re very keen to

run articles from Australia, New Zealand,

Europe, Africa, South America, wherever

good rewilding work is being done. To

distil it down to a couple of phrases,

rewilding is helping nature heal. The way

I put it is

Again, to try and put it poetically,

giving the land back to wildlife, and

wildlife back to the land. But, what does

that really mean? Of course, it means

And, the reason that

reconnecting them is so important is that

conservation biologists have found in the

last few decades that isolated protected

areas tend to lose their species over time.

Many of the wide ranging, space

demanding species just cannot persist

over the long haul in small, isolated

habitats. So, rewilding, on the ground, is

partly about reconnecting wildlife

habitats on a large scale, and it’s also

about restoring the missing species that

have been eliminated by human actions.

At the Rewilding Institute, we give

special attention to top carnivores in

North America; that often means pumas,

wolves, and sometimes, grizzly bears or

polar bears.

So, in rewilding

work, there tends to be a lot of emphasis

on restoring those top carnivores. If you

have top carnivores in place, generally

that means you're protecting enough

habitat for most other species as well,

because, those top carnivores need more

wild space than most of the smaller

animals and plants around them. So,

rewilding tends to give special attention

to big wild spaces, and to restoring the

apex predators, or the top carnivores.

But, we also work at smaller scales.

Rewilding can also mean replanting a

depleted stream bank, or helping an inperil

tree species reclaim its original

ground, or restoring prairie dogs. It can

be many different things. But, it tends to

be about protection and reintroduction

on a large scale.

Pumas are doing okay in the American

west and the Canadian west; they persist

in all western states and provinces, and

in Mexico. They are too often persecuted

– they're hunted and trapped – but, they

hang on. And, in some places, they're

thriving. In California they're thriving,

because they're fully protected. Wolves

were eradicated from most of the lower

48 United States, but survived in Alaska

and Canada, and there’s a small

population there. They’ve been

reintroduced in some parts of the west,

but, not most of the American west. So,

most of the American west has pumas,

but it's still deprived of wolves.

Otherwise, east United States and much

of south-eastern Canada is lacking in top


Jaguars have been exterminated from

the lower 48 United States, they probably

originally ranged at least as far north as

the Grand Canyon, in Arizona. They still

occasionally do cross the border from

Mexico into the United States. But, they

are more and more hindered by the

border wall.

exotic or alien species that don't belong

and tend to outcompete native species.

We know a great deal about that.

So, one of the early

casualties of the Trump border wall is


So, I guess I would say the

biological understandings are more

advanced than the sociological and social

understanding. For people open-minded

and tolerant and compassionate enough,

it’s not difficult to live near pumas or


So, I think

What's needed on the ground,

biologically speaking, is probably easier

to understand. I think we have a better

understanding of that, than we have an

understanding of how to convince

people to accept that.

In other words, a conservation biologist

can pretty clearly describe the habitat

conditions that native wildlife species

need. We know that animals that evolved

in the forest usually need continuous

forest cover, and they tend to suffer if

that forest is too badly fragmented. We

know that habitat fragments gradually

lose species over time, and are invaded by


especially rural people, who may not

think they will be safe, if there are wolves

out there. They may not think that their

children will be safe if there are wolves

out there. In fact, the dangers from top

carnivores to people are infinitesimally

small. They probably make our

landscapes safer, not more dangerous.

But, that's a hard thing to convince

people. We humans tend to have very

deep-seated fears of animals that can eat

us, partly because tens of thousands of

years ago, or even thousands of years ago,

there were animals that could eat us, and,

perhaps would. At least in North

America, that's really not the case

anymore, but, those –those fears are

deep-seated and they're hard to


population to sustainable levels.

. So, we have to listen

to the rural people, we have to talk with

them, we have to understand if you're a

farmer trying to make a living, it really

matters if your chickens are getting eaten

by a weasel, or if your lambs are getting

eaten by a coyote, it’s a very serious


I think even a billion,

over the long haul, is a great many

people, unless we want to live much,

much more simply. But, from what I'm

seeing now, in my mid-fifties, when I talk

with younger folk, I get the sense they're

create compensation programmes. I

think those of us who want native species

back on the ground need to be willing to

pay a little extra for food. We need to be

willing to pay the farmers indirectly or

directly if they lose livestock to predators.

But, another obstacle to rewilding,

perhaps the biggest in the world, really, is

just the

. I

know that human population is a very

controversial, sensitive subject, but to my


. I

think, this may not have been the case in

the past, but I think right now, at least in

the affluent countries,

. That is, I

don't think many people want to give up

their modern conveniences but, I think

many people are willing to have a small

family. And, of course, people with small

families tend to have more disposable

income. So, what I'm hoping is that we

can convince the next coming


. I think we have to humanely

and compassionately educate each other,

and create financial incentives to

encourage a stabilisation of population

in every country, practically, and then

gradual peaceful voluntary declines in

We all love children.

And, people are good. But, we are too

many, right now. You get different

numbers from different demographers

and ecologists, but I think a billion

would be plenty of people to maintain a

vast, comfortable civilisation for


Interestingly, I think rewilding efforts

are actually ahead in Europe, as

compared to North America.

It’s ironic, because it was my mentor,

teacher, and friend, ,

who coined the term “Rewilding”. He

was the first to use it publicly, and, he was

probably the most important in shaping

the concept of rewilding, along with our

conservation biology friends


. I think you could say

they are, sort of, the forefathers the

rewilding movement. Which is being

carried on, by the way, at least as much

by women these days as by men. But, the

rewilding movement seems to me to be

stronger in Europe right now than in

North America. And, that might be

partly because Europe has been more

thoroughly domesticated. We still have,

thank goodness, in North America, quite

a few big wild spaces, especially in

Canada, perhaps secondary in Mexico,

perhaps least of all the United States.

But, even in the United States, and

especially in Alaska, northernmost

continental United States, we have a lot

of big wild country, still. Possibly because

of that – and, Europe doesn’t have quite

as much, I think. Maybe because of that,

rewilding efforts seem to have moved

along more quickly in Europe. But,

certainly the concept is gaining

momentum in, I would say, in Europe,

North America, and South America.

And, as you probably heard, some of the

most impressive rewilding work on the

planet right now is happening in South

America. My wife and I both used to

work for

, who

were the founders of the Foundation for

Deep Ecology and the Conservation

Land Trust, and they have been real

leaders in rewilding work. They're both

from the United States, but they adopted

Chile and Argentina for much of their

conservation work, and they have been

cooperating with local people and with

other conservationists towards buying

and saving land in southern Chile and

Argentina, and then reintroducing

missing species. Terrifically successful; if

anybody wants to look into it, just


, or

, and you’ll see

story after story of successfully buying

and saving land, working with local

people, and restoring this ecosystem.

Very inspiring.

So, in a way, I think North America’s

actually might be trailing a bit behind

Europe and South America in active

rewilding work on the ground. I think in

terms of articulating concepts, much of

that has come from North America, but

we need a lot more on-the-ground work.

A great deal of it is happening, and there

have been many, many dam removals.

That's one of the most important types of

rewilding work, is liberating rivers, taking

down the unneeded, deadbeat dams, so

the fish can resume their travel up and

downstream. That has happened

hundreds of times in the United States.

Road removal has happened on many

public lands. Not often enough, but it

has been done quite a bit on public lands

as with other type of rewilding work.

And, then, wildlife crossings. Putting in

safe wildlife crossings; bridges over or

tunnels under roads so that animals can

safely cross. That's yet another rewilding

tool, and that has been done quite a bit

in the United States and Canada. Not as

much as necessary, but we've made some

good starts.

I think it's very important. One reason I have

focused largely on rewilding, in recent years, is

I have been on the defensive in conservation for

a long time. The defensive conservation work –

the fighting to save wild places, fighting to

prevent extinction – is absolutely crucial, but,

we need a positive vision. We need positive,

proactive work. Rewilding is, sort of, the

positive side of land saving. It’s the potentially

happy stories. People, I think, have a need to

interact with nature. And, all too often, these

days, that interaction is harmful. It’s cutting

down trees or shooting animals unnecessarily –

and by the way, I'm not against hunting, but, I

think it should be about subsistence and not

about trophies. Too often human interactions

with nature in modern times have been very

harmful and very one-sided. It’s about

conquering. I would much rather be working

with nature and actively restoring to natural

conditions those areas we've degraded. And,

rewilding can be very affirming, positive, on-theground

work. It can be planting native trees that

may have been cut down or exterminated

somehow. It can be restocking streams with

native fish, it can be busting out a dam on a

river, or obliterating an unneeded road in a

public forest. So, there’s a lot of hands-on work

in rewilding that can be very positive, great

exercise, very life-affirming; and what's one

reason why I see rewilding as being so

important. We need some positive work and

some happy stories in this sometimes rather

politically dark time.

I guess my vision would be continental

wildways; that is, large scale continent-wide

wildlife corridors, spanning North America,

and all the continents. Even between

continents. I would also envision similar

protected spaces in the oceans – it’s just as

important to create protected areas in the ocean

as it is on land, and making those wildways,

those wildlife corridors, as natural as possible.

Within those wildways, restore the missing

species wherever feasible, work with local

people to create compensation programmes, so

that predators are tolerated if they do

occasionally eat livestock, green-line the wild

spaces and make them into parks or wilderness

areas, and expand those protected areas

wherever possible. Create incentives for private

landowners to be good wildlife and

conservation stewards. One of the big

challenges for wildways in North America,

almost anywhere and especially in the eastern

United States, where it is densely populated

and mostly private land, is that the financial

pressures on landowners typically favour

exploitation rather than conservation. We need

to reward landowners for doing the right thing.

Perhaps we could help by paying them for

sequestering carbon, for storing carbon in the

ground by letting their trees grow, or letting

their natural grasslands grow. You know, we

cannot expect wildways to be only on public

lands. They're going to be on private lands, too,

and they're going to have people in them. We

need to make it easy for those people to coexist

with wildlife. I think we basically need to pay

people to do the right thing, create the right

financial incentives.

So, my vision would be wildways spanning

every continent, between continents, and across

the ocean. Those wildways would be as natural

as possible, but they would have people and

towns and cities and roads, but that human

infrastructure would be made as permeable as

possible to wildlife movement. And, one other

thing I want to add, and especially since you're

working with a beautiful magazine that has a lot

of great stories in it, Rewilding is not just about

science. It’s guided by science, but it’s also

guided by stories. It’s also guided by vision, and

it will depend for its success at least as much on

the arts and on stories following, and on poetry

and painting as it will on the science. And,

science helps us know what is needed but, what

will actually convince us to go there is much

more the stories and the art, than the science, I

believe. I would love to see a, you know, a

strong, vibrant genre of storytelling. Maybe we

call it eco-fiction, or rewilding stories. I'd love to

see rewilding content in movies and on TV. We

need it everywhere. We need it everywhere. To

get those ideas out, we really need them in all

types of media. I think we need to all become

better at looking at the world through the eyes

and other sense of other creatures. You know, I

think we've just become too human-centred,

and it’s not healthy for us, it’s not healthy for

the world.


Just a little lie down.

It feels so long since I last laid down. Feeling the

creak in my bones, I fold onto the soft carpet with

a contented huff. It’s okay. The house is warm,

and my people are stroking me. There was never a

better time or place to lay down.

I really should be going. It’s been so many long

years, all of them filled with fun and love and noise

– filled with Mum and Dad and Sadie – even

thinking back on them all makes me tired. Happy,

and tired. I can’t leave my people, though. I can't

leave Sadie. They need me to look after them –

even if I sometimes feel so heavy that I don't know

if I’ll be able to walk to the door to greet them when

they come home from work, or school.

I haven't seen the park in a long time.

Sadie is sad. It hurts my heart when she cries. I

know she tries not to. I don’t know why she is

crying. I stretch out on my side so she can rub my

tummy – that always makes her smile. For a

moment, she does. I smile too.

Mum and Dad are holding her while she holds

me. Maybe they can look after each other after all.

Maybe I made them happy, and now they don't

need my help.

I hope so.

I realise that I don't have to go anywhere. While

I’m here watching over them, they’re right here

watching over me, too.

I love them.

Maybe I’ll just rest my eyes.


Sadie’s sobs turned into a high, keening

wail as she saw her dog’s soft, silver eyes close

for what she knew would be the last time. She

pressed her face into his grey muzzle and


Sadie’s parents were just as shaken, as they

both wrapped their arms around the eight-

year-old with all the love they had. Ollie had

been their friend for 13 years. Sadie had

never known a world without him. Audra

and Daniel struggled to imagine one.

“He's gone, he’s gone, he’s gone,” Sadie was

whispering through her tears. “He’s gone.

He’s gone.”

The slow, laboured rhythm of his chest had

stopped. Daniel rubbed a hand through his

heavy brindle coat, and stood to turn away.

“Ollie isn't gone, sweetheart,” Audra said,

wiping her quiet tears on Sadie’s cardiganed

shoulder as she pulled her closer. “He's not

gone. Dr. Rita’s on her way”. She looked up

and met eyes with Daniel, who was talking

quietly to the phone at his ear a few steps

away. He nodded affirmation.

“He’s already dead! The doctor’s too late!”

Sadie’s cries were muffled by the wet patch of

fur she was weeping into Ollie’s cheek.

“She’s only a couple of minutes away. She

says there’s still time,” Daniel said, coming

back to kneel beside Sadie and their dog

again. “She’s going to get here in time.”

“We should've brought her in weeks ago,”

Audra said under her breath. “We could see

he didn't have long. We wouldn't have to

worry about missing the window”.

“And have Ollie spend his last couple of

weeks in recovery?” Daniel breathed back,

pressing another hug around his wife and

daughter. “No. And we could've calculated

wrong. He could've lasted another year, and

then where would we be?”

Audra nodded through tears.

It was only a few minutes more before the

doctor arrived. She tried the door before

knocking – it was open – so no one from the

family would have to leave Ollie’s side.

“Rita. Thank you for coming so quickly,”

Audra said, looping an arm around the

doctor’s neck as she came in close to kneel

with them next to Ollie. “I hope it’s not too


“I think I made it just in time,” Rita said

after hugging Audra back. She ran her hands

over Ollie’s still warm frame. She’d been the

family’s veterinarian for years, and she knew

this sweet dog well. Tucking a strand of white

hair behind her ear, she reached for the case

she’d dropped behind her. “We can make it


Sadie sat back from her spot hovering over

Ollie’s soft shoulder, as her parents stood

and took a couple of steps away. Dr. Rita gave

her a warm, genuine smile. “I ran two red

lights to get here on time,” she whispered to

the stricken girl. “I'm going to make sure

Ollie won't be gone for long.”

She looked up at Audra and Daniel as she

started to take her tools out of the case.

Sadie’s eyes widened as a massive empty

syringe with a long, thin needle was pulled

out and placed on a silver tray next to Ollie.

“You can stay while I do the procedure, it

only takes a few minutes, but it’s not too

pretty to look at.”

Audra put a firm hand on Sadie’s shoulder,

but she cleared her eyes by rubbing with both

palms, and said “No. I want to see.”

“Are you sure?”

“I'm not leaving Ollie.”

“Fair enough,” said Rita, with a nononsense

nod. She took to her work, shaving

a wide, uneven strip across Ollie’s hipbones

bald, with an electric razor that whined

almost sacrilegiously in the quiet of the

mourning living room. She wiped the loose,

grey skin clean with a sterilised pad and her

now-gloved hands, and made a deep, discreet

cut so quickly that Sadie almost missed it.

“W-what is that for?” Sadie whispered as

the vet brandished the enormous syringe.

Rita tilted the needle towards the incision,

and made a quick, powerful jab. Sadie felt

both parents flinch from the pressure of their

hands on her shoulders and back. Ollie’s

whole quiet body jolted from the force. Rita

started to pull the plunger back.

“This is how we collect the stem cells that

we’ll need to bring your Ollie back to life,”

Rita said, as a thick, pinkish liquid started to

creep up the shaft of the syringe. “It comes

from the marrow inside his bones. They hold

his cells, his DNA – they can even hold his

personality, his memories, perhaps.” She

looked up to a tearstained Audra and Daniel

as the syringe continued to fill. “Some people

think so, anyway.”

Dr. Rita filled the syringe and reinserted

another needle into Ollie’s frail pelvis four

more times in the next few minutes, carefully

packing each extraction into sealed MedSafe

container, and then into her large case. They

were safe. The rush was done. She kissed

Ollie on the back of his head, took off her

gloves, and offered a long, sad hug to each of

Ollie’s beloved family members. Then she

took the case of Ollie’s essence and walked

out the door.


Sadie let out an audible squeal as the

doorbell finally rang. She made a dash for the

door before her parents had even registered

the sound.

Four months had passed since Ollie had

taken his last contented breaths there on

their living room carpet, and they had been

waiting with bated breath for a very

important house-call ever since. Daniel and

Audra both felt a rush of excitement, too,

when they realised that today was the day of

the visit they'd been expecting.

They rushed out too, in time to see Sadie

open the door to a young, portly woman with

a large carrier in her arms and a happylooking

Labrador at her heels.

“I’m Angela, and this is SweetPea, the

surrogate,” they caught her saying as Sadie

invited the two of them in. “And, this –”

Angela brandished the carry case, put it on

the floor, and unclipped the door. “– is who

you’ve been waiting to meet.”


I’ve never seen new people before. And yet, the

faces I see when my carrier is opened are more than

familiar. I already love them.

I pad out of the carrier on eight-week-old legs, a

little unsteady but as filled with potential as a

coiled spring. My mother is happy, sitting behind

me, the faint smell of milk still on her fur. Her

person is happy too. The faces are even happier up


But…they're crying. Do people cry when they're


I approach the little girl as quickly as I can, and

lick the tears from her cheeks as she lifts me to her

face. She squeezes me so tight that I can feel the

happiness through the warmth of her skin. I know

this little girl. She loves me.

These people don't know how to smile without

crying. I could show them. Maybe I should stay,

and look after them until I'm old and grey, and

they know how to look after themselves.

I want to. They make me happy too. ◊

In 2005, an Afghan hound named Snuppy

was born in Korea. The only surviving puppy

from what was initially a pair, Snuppy not

only grew up into a strong and healthy adult

dog, but lived a full ten years – close to the

average life expectancy of this breed. Time

Magazine recognised Snuppy as one of the

most amazing inventions of that year – why?

Because, of course, Snuppy was a clone.

Unlike sheep, horses, cows, and other

regular subjects of mammalian cloning since

its inception with Dolly the sheep in 1996,

the reproductive system of dogs creates a slew

of practical and physiological issues that

make their cloning unprecedented in

difficulty. And yet, 15 years after the

revolutionary breakthrough that was

Snuppy’s birth, canine cloning is available on

the open market for any pet owner that wants

their own personal Ollie to have a brand new

counterpart – if you have a spare

$50,000USD to facilitate this cause, that is.

Barbara Streisand, famously, is one of those

pet owners. After fostering a bond with her

dog for a wonderful 14 years, anyone with a

pet could sympathise with her concerns

about the idea of losing Samantha forever –

it’s something all of us have to consider

somewhere in the heartbreakingly short

lifespans of our animal family members.

– Barbara Streisand, for the New York Times

The process doesn’t only apply to pets,

either. A large group of animals with

identical genetics makes for an ideal control

group in research, to rule out outliers with

strange behaviours due to heritable traits.

Service dogs might be replicated with an

aptitude for certain important abilities,

racehorses can continue on genetic lines with

greater purity, and captive endangered

species could be cloned to help boost wild

populations, and increase their genetic

diversity out in the world.

American Veterinarian representative

Kerry Ryan highlights another interesting

outcome of commercially cloned animals:

– American Veterinarian, Pet Cloning: Where We Are Today.

The cloning process itself hasn’t changed a

great deal since its inception in the mid- to

late-90s. Sample cells are surgically extracted

from a (usually, but not always, living) donor.

A tissue sample of only a few square

millimetres is required, usually collected

during an unrelated surgical routine

procedure in which they are put under

general anaesthetic.

Then, an unrelated female dog has her

unfertilised eggs surgically harvested from her

fallopian tubes. The nucleus of an egg is

removed with a very fine pipette, turning it

into a genetic clean slate that the DNA of the

donor can be inserted into. And this is what

they do; the nucleus from a viable cell

collected from the donor is inserted back into

those empty eggs, and fill the void left by the

female dog’s DNA. A quick electric burst

fuses the two unrelated parts into a new,

single cell – the donor’s DNA is now part of

the egg, and will theoretically grow into the

embryo of the clone puppy we’re waiting for.

Rather than fertilisation with sperm, which

is not needed as the egg already has a full set

of genetic information from the donor, the

fusing electrical burst also jumpstarts the cell

division. Once this is observed, a couple of

days after the fusing, the egg/s are surgically

implanted into the surrogate that, with any

luck, will carry the puppy to term. The

growing foetal puppies are clones, yes, but

they are now fully functioning, natural

unborn puppies – they grow in the womb as

any other puppy would, and are born

(naturally, or as at some facilities, via C-

section), in around 60 days, dependent on

the breed. Along with dogs, there is

commercial pet cloning available for cats and

horses that follow very similar processes

within their own species, and many more for


Snuppy, like Ollie II in Grey Muzzle, was the

product of a sample taken from a dog that

had recently passed. Cloning of any kind

requires a number of cells with intact DNA –

DNA which begins to deteriorate very

quickly after death as bacteria start to attack

the cells that, suddenly, have no active

protection. That being said, it’s not

impossible. Given the right time frame, a

regular veterinarian is able to extract the

correct sample from a dog, living or not, and

send these to ViaGen (the US facility for pet

cloning) for their indefinite storage, and

reuse. In fact, Sooam (their South Korean

counterpart) promises that “If the cells from

the dead dog are not compromised, we

guarantee you will get a dog within five

months.” The processes for pet cloning in the

world of Grey Muzzle use stem cells, rather

than the somatic cells that ViaGen and all

present-day pet cloning techniques use. Stem

cells are known for a variety of applications,

but one important trait is their ability to

differentiate into other types of cell, to

reproduce themselves or cells from anywhere

(and for any purpose) in the body. We’re still

learning about the myriad uses and forms of

information that are connected with stem

cells, and as of this time they haven't been

utilised for cloning – as far as we know.

As wonderful as the idea of our dog living

on forever in a set of new bodies, retaining

their personality and memories and all of

their traits, that’s just not the story that’s told

by the technology we have in our grasp today.

As similar as our clone might look to the dog

we were cloning, they are an individual

creature with their own needs, experiences,

and life. Though growing up with

such a loving family will surely

lead them to thrive, it will not –

and cannot – guarantee that

they’ll end up being the same, or

similar, dog.

Another concern that we need

to consider is that of how the

ability to clone and replace pets

that we know and love changes

– Vanity Fair

the way we think about them, and

about their replacements. Once we have the access to a technology that can push back our

grieving process by creating a replacement for a dog potentially before they have even passed

away, will that change the way we treat the dog towards the end of their life? Will it change

how we perceive the replacement?

Cloning companies have even gone as far as approaching veterinarians and those involved in

end-of-life canine care, to suggest they offer these cloning services to families struck by the grief

of losing (or preparing to lose) their beloved family member. With a genetic backup stored safe

in the bank, perhaps owners won’t feel so bad about their beloved dogs being euthanised, or

passively allowing them to pass, because they’ll get a brand-new version whenever they feel the

need for a replacement. Though ViaGen and Sooam can both be quoted discussing how their

service will not yield an exact copy of the original pet, this idea still preys somewhat on the fact

that it’s hard for the layman to grasp that a clone with the exact same DNA as the original may

not be the exact same dog – and

certainly won't contain any hard and

fast personalities or memories of a

“previous” lifetime, as is hinted at in

the futuristic version described in Grey

Muzzle. Then again, there’s always a

chance that the cloning organisation in

this story’s universe is tricking its

consumers in the same way, and the

love Ollie II feels for Sadie and her

– Jessica Pearce parents is the same love that any puppy

might feel when meeting new friends.

Another moral consideration, and perhaps the most pressing, is what the pet cloning industry

means to the surrogate mothers that are owned by the businesses and facilities that offer the

service. If the puppies produced by the cloning industry starts to become seen as more product

than friend, then how will people see the many, many female dogs behind the scenes that are

working with, and often falling prey to, this new scientific trend?

– Jessica Pearce

In fact, this is one reason why multiple

major animal advocacy organisations have

actively come out against the pet cloning

trend. Overshadowed by the cloned products

that they produce, the life of a clone-lab

surrogate is currently not as bright as the one

described in Grey Muzzle. They are used to

carry puppy after puppy, have their eggs

surgically harvested when they go into heat

twice a year, and are consistently injected

with IVF hormones that can be harmful

when used for these long, repetitive periods.

In some cases, dogs are custom bred to

become surrogates for a particular cloning

facility: “She’s a mixed breed,” Jae Woong

Wang, a canine-reproduction researcher of

Sooam, explains of a surrogate mother

carrying a purebred litter for international

royalty. “We breed the surrogate moms to be

docile and gentle.”

Many of the resultant pregnancies don’t

take in-utero, or die shortly after birth, as

with Snuppy’s twin – not to mention that

Snuppy himself was one of only three

pregnancies that resulted from more than

1,000 embryos being implanted into 123

surrogates. Though today, in a much more

advanced field of cloning technology, the

odds for a successful outcome for the

surrogate are much higher (Sooam reports

success at around 33%), the exploitation of

these surrogates describes something of a

chilling underbelly to the practise that Jessica

Pearce describes as “A Handmaid’s Tale for


While universally considered a

breakthrough for genetic science, animals,

and human knowledge in general, there’s no

doubt that pet cloning is a very controversial

topic – though far from the first.

James Watson, co-discoverer of the shape of

DNA, predicted that “All hell will break

loose, politically and morally” in response to

the birth of the first human IVF baby in the

1970s. But, since then, more than seven

million babies have been born with IVF (or

other forms of reproduction assistance) – to

the point where many governments with

universal healthcare will subsidise IVF for

parents struggling to conceive. As hysterical

as the science (and fiction) world became at

that breakthrough, it all simmered down

after the world collectively realised that the

resulting babies were just that – normal,

regular, undeformed babies.

There are plenty of reasons to suspect, or

outright reject, the practise of pet cloning as

it exists in the world today – but the concept

of scientific hubris, or hysteria around

deformities and the pollution of sacred

genetic lines, are not examples of them. Grey

Muzzle paints a much more optimistic view of

what pet cloning could become, should

technology and culture move in the direction

it describes – but the moral question

remains, whether the creation of a new

beloved Ollie is what’s best for his family, and

his memory.

Brogan, J. (2018, March 22). The Real Reasons You

Shouldn’t Clone Your Dog. Retrieved from

Smithsonian Magazine:



Duncan, D. E. (2018, August 7). Inside the Very

Big, Very Controversial Business of Dog Cloning.

Retrieved from Vanity Fair:

McKinney, M. (2018, November 18). Pet Cloning:

Where We Are Today. Retrieved from American



Pierce, J. (2018, March 6). You Love Dogs? Then

Don’t Clone Them. Retrieved from The New York




The intern was all wrong. But then, any

intern at the City Zoo would be terrible, even

one without a ponytail and round, purpletinted

glasses. Still, the kid had a sextuplicate

form, and the top sheet said that this Max

Mejora, an anthropology graduate student at

the State U, wanted to be an intern at the


“I don’t need any help,” I said. “Zoo’s

been practically empty for five years. There’s

nothing to do but tidy up.”

The kid eyed the name sewn onto my

shirt. “Franklin? Look, I’m not afraid of a

little hard work. Maybe you can take it a little

easy for a while. Rest your dogs.”

I wanted to tell him to shove off. I didn’t

need to take it easy, and I resented the

implication that I could be replaced by some

unpaid college intern. I held my tongue.

Truth was, I knew I couldn’t ignore the multicolored,

sextuplicate, carbon-copy

government form he had. I held it by the

corner to keep the ink from smudging. After

too many hacking incidents, the city

bureaucrats stopped using email. Apparently

now something was wrong with copy

machines too. The top pink sheet of the form

said that Max was working on a thesis called:

“The Extinction of Exotic Macrofauna


I jabbed a finger at the title. “What does

that mean?”

“It means I’m studying zoos, or the lack

of them,” the kid said. “For hundreds of

years, human beings have had a fascination

with zoos. They proliferated in the 1400s

along with global exploration, but their

popularity peaked in the twentieth century.

We’ve witnessed a dramatic drop in this

century. Zoos worldwide are closed or

virtually empty. No one knows whether it’s

because of terrorism fears, budget cutbacks,

animal activism. Or perhaps it’s just the

general malaise due to—”

I held up a hand to cut him off, a gesture

I had a feeling I would need to repeat often.

If there was one thing the boy could do, it was


“Got it. Let me see, here.” I patted my

pockets, but my reading glasses were missing.

I squinted at the form. “Hmm. . . oh there’s

a problem. Says right here, it has to be signed

by the interim zoo director.”

“Okay. Then, where can I find the


“There isn’t one.” I couldn’t help but

smile a bit. “I’m the only employee at this

zoo. And last I checked my pay stub, it said


“Well, the woman at the city office said,

if there isn’t an ‘interim director’ the next

highly ranked employee would do, which

would be?”

“Me, I suppose,” I said. “I’m the only one

here, but if the janitor signs this paper, they’ll

come asking questions.”

“And that would be bad?” Max asked.

“Damn straight that would be bad. Truth

is, I think they’ve plum forgot that I’m still

here, and I don’t intend to remind them.

Somebody down at the budget office still

signs my check, so I work. If they remember

they missed me in the last round of layoffs,

then I’ll be next. And at my age, I’m not

bound to find another job.” The kid looked

unmoved, so I tried another angle “And then

there’d be no one to take care of Ike.”

“Who’s Ike? Your son?”

For a moment, I thought the kid was

crazy. “No, he’s the polar bear! Him and me,

we’re the only living things here. We both

survived by keeping our heads down, and I

don’t intend to do anything to stir up any

trouble now.”

the zoologist in charge of the polar bears, was

long gone at that point, quit in protest, and

no one bothered to ask me, so they missed

one big old, half-blind bear. The government

folks were supposed to come back after the

removal and check up on everything. They

never did.

“That’s an interesting strategy,” Max said.

“But if you don’t sign that paper and take me

on as an intern, I’m going right back to the

city to tell them all I could find here was a

janitor just doing his job and a lonely, old

polar bear who’d be better off in a preserve.”

I chewed on that for about a half a

minute. “Okay, then, let me show you

around. We’ll just see how you much you like

it here.”

So I took the fool kid to the empty

monkey cages that I mopped on Mondays,

the bird pavilions that I swept on Tuesdays,

the Elephant Exhibit that I raked over with

the old tractor on Wednesdays and the lawn

on Lion Hill that I mowed every Thursday

and sometimes again the following Monday.

Then, I took Max to Ike’s enclosure

where I had him mash up some stinking cod

for the old half-blind bear. Ike didn’t even

bother to come out of his cave to say ‘how do

you do.’ He’s a smart one, that bear. When

the clipboard people came counting, he’d

hidden far back in that fake rock cave, and

then he was nowhere to be seen when they

back came with the tranquilizer guns. Hank,

After leaving the bucket of smashed cod

for Ike, I took Max to the drained hippo pool

which was growing a nice coat of mold and

needed a good scrubbing. I handed him a

brush and some gloves. The kid went to it like

he had something to prove. But as he

worked, he kept glancing at the video screen

that snapped on every time someone

approached the exhibit. After all the animals

went to preserves, the activists set up live

connections to show what a jolly good time

the animals were having in their new homes.

“I don’t think that’s really ‘live’ footage,”

Max said.

“Course it is,” I said.

“Well, we’ve been here 20 minutes, and

I’ve seen the same hippo do that same slide

through the mud three times.”

“Hippos like to roll in mud,” I said.

“Come on, Frankie,”

“Names Franklin,” I said. “And so what?

The connection went out a couple years ago.

Now I just play the old tapes. I’ve got them

on a loop.”

That’s seemed to set something off in the

kid. He got suddenly overly excited. “So

instead of live animals you have these tapes

are what two, three years old? Some of the

animals might even be dead! Do people still

come to watch these? They risk potential

terrorist attacks to come see pictures of dead

animals in an empty zoo. How wonderfully


I held up my hand. “Sad is what it is.

Nobody comes here. They can see videos like

that at home on the TV. I doubt they even

care about the real animals anymore,” I said.

“Now, why don’t I show you where I keep the


But it was too late. After that, Max was

tagging after me asking question after

question. “When had people stopped

coming to the zoo? Are there any plans to

bring in new animals? Why don’t you ask for

a budget?” I stopped him out near the


“Where’ve you been?” I said. “Don’t you

realize that there’s a war going on, the

economy’s shot to hell, and there’s so many

terrorist attacks most folks are afraid to go

outside, much less care about this old zoo —

even the activists don’t bother to protest it

any more. If your fancy college education

can’t help you figure out what the hell is

going on, well, a custodial engineer sure ain’t

going to be able to explain it to you!”

The boy’s mouth hung open, and I

thought maybe I’d gotten some sense into

that thick cerebellum of his, when Mr. Sato

arrived. It seemed as if the old man planned

his daily walk that morning to prove me

wrong. Max silently pointed in his direction.

“Okay,” I said. “Some joggers and seniors

come through the zoo from time to time. Just

passing through on their way to the park.”

Mr. Sato stopped by the gate and dropped

some change into the tray at the closed

cashier booth as he always did. Then he

walked over to us. “Morning!” he said.

“Zoo’s free Mr. Sato, like I’ve told you,” I

said. “Please don’t put any more change in

the cashier box.”

“The only constant is change!” Mr. Sato

smiled at his joke. He was always making

annoying puns like that. “Use it to buy

something for the zoo. Some animals

perhaps? Who’s this?”

The kid extended his hand. “Max Mejora,

the new zoo intern.”

“Not if I don’t sign his form,” I said.

“Frank here is worried because the

interim zoo director is supposed to sign it.”

“Name’s Franklin,” I told the boy. “And

I’m no director.”

“Ah, take a promotion!” Mr. Sato said.

“You want me and the folks at the senior

center to start a petition for you?”

“No,” I said. “Please don’t.”

But I could tell the way the wind was

blowing. I figured it was best not to go against

it. I signed the blooming form.

I didn’t regret it immediately. The kid

actually helped some. It was a big park and

even with hardly nothing in it, there was

always something to do. And annoying

though he was, Max was at least some human

company. The first week passed, and I was

feeling that maybe it would be okay. Then,

my cheque arrived.

Someone had noticed that I’d signed the

“interim director” line on the kid’s form.

Someone in the accounting department. The

check was more than double my usual

amount. I stood by the front gate mailbox for

a long time just staring at that paper, trying

to decide how to feel about it. I needed the

money, hell yes. My son was overseas in that

never-ending desert war, and I was helping

out my daughter-in-law and grandkids with

whatever I could spare. But I didn’t take

money that didn’t belong to me. All of Mr.

Sato’s change stood in a jar by my desk. I did

use some of it from time to time for the zoo,

but I had noted every expenditure in case

anyone ever checked.

But this was a whole other thing. If I

cashed a check intended for an interim zoo

director, and the mistake was discovered —

that might just be my last check. Then again,

if I pointed out the mistake, that would surely

stir up something. The accounting folks

might decide to tell the higher-ups, and I

might be tossed out anyway, without this

money I was holding right here in my hand.

Keep your head down, I said to myself. This

motto had worked for me so far. Only I

wasn’t sure how best to apply it in this case.

Mr. Sato found me there still staring at

the check. “Hey! You should see what the kid

has done!”

With a bad feeling, I put the paper in my

pocket and followed Mr. Sato over to the

Elephant Exhibit. At first, everything looked

all right: big, empty raked space except for the

pigeons roosting in the oversized shelters.

Then, I saw the new sign. A computerprintout

was slid underneath the glass of the

old elephant placard:

Columbia livia: Urban Pigeons or “Rock


Seen here in their natural habitat, the

ubiquitous “rock dove” has adapted well to modern

cities. Pigeons mate for life and produce a type of

“crop milk” to feed their young. A highly visual

species, they could be capable of abstract thought.

Some can even identify all 26 letters of the


I had to admit it sounded factual enough,

though I think that’s the first time I’d ever

seen the word “ubiquitous” on one of them

educational signs.

“You ever hear of such a clever boy?” Mr.

Sato punched me in the shoulder. “He found

a way to bring animals back to the zoo.

They’re already here!” The old man obviously

thought the whole thing was hilarious.

I went to find Max.

On my way, I passed more of these new

signs. There was one under the old oak tree

for the squirrels, another for the chipmunks

that had taken over the gopher mound, and

one for the sparrows by the old concession

stand. I couldn’t find kid, so I went back to

my office, and I saw that Max had put a sign

next to the bowls I left out for the feral cats.

That really tore it.

I finally found the kid in one of the empty

labs with his laptop, making a sign for

raccoons. Raccoons!

“What the hell do you think you’re

doing?” I asked.

“Just trying to shift the zoo paradigm.”

Max didn’t look up from his computer


“Pair of what?”

“The paradigm. I’m trying to change how

people see zoos and themselves and really the

whole world around them.”

“That’s lovely,” I said. “Now, you go take

every one of them damn signs down.”

“Hey Franky, relax. You already signed

the paperwork. Did you read it carefully? I’m

allowed to —” he held up his hands and made

air quotes: “develop several exhibits as a way

of generating new resources for the zoo.”

I could tell by his precise words that he’d

memorized the phrase just for this moment.

I went to look at the form anyway. There it

was in the smaller print, of course. I should

have worn my reading glasses, and I should

have never signed that form! I took my check

out of my pocket again. If the kid was going

to get me fired, I might as well get paid in the

meantime. In for a penny, in for a pound.

That’s something Mr. Sato might say.

The signs continued to multiply. The

next day Mr. Sato brought his senior center

cronies in for the grand tour. The group of

elderly men came armed with paper cups of

coffee and newspapers. I knew I’d have to

empty the trash when they left. To top it off,

every single damn one of them put coins into

the cashier box.

I followed the slow-moving tour. The

signs for the pigeons and squirrels elicited

some chuckles and polite remarks, but when

they discovered the feral cat “exhibit,” a

debate erupted among the old men.

“There are no animals here! Just food

dishes!” One man yelled in the overly loud

way of the partially deaf. “You have to give

the cats a safe place where they can be seen!

How about Lion Hill?” The other old men

laughed. Max made a show of taking out his

notepad and scribbling.

“You should have a dog exhibit!”

Another one shouted. “The city won’t do

anything about all those strays in the park.

You should put them in the old Hyena


I didn’t like the way this was going, but

before I could say anything, Mr. Sato got a

flash of inspiration.

“I know!” he said. “We should play chess

here. You can make an exhibit about chess

players! What do you say boys?” He turned to

his gang of seniors who all nodded in delight.

“That’s brilliant!” Max said.

“Hey now!” I interrupted. “The cats are

one thing, but we can’t have stray dogs here.

It’s dangerous, and we absolutely aren’t going

to put old men in cages!”

“No. Not cages. In our natural

environment: the food court! You can even

paint our tracks!” Mr. Sato pointed down at

his feet.

I crossed my arms. “There’s no money for


Mr. Sato pulled out more coins from his

pocket. “You can’t stop change,” he said.

So I let them carry on with their crazy

plans and quietly cashed my second overly fat

check. I started cruising the want-ads even

though I knew there wasn’t much hope. I

could already imagine my resume, a single

line: 25 years as a zoo custodian. There was

probably a time when that would be seen as

a good thing. Now they’d wonder: Why

hadn’t I ever changed jobs? Why hadn’t I

gotten additional training? What would I tell

them? I liked it here. Or I had. It was steady,

paid decently. There were good benefits.

Maybe the real reason was I didn’t like

change. No, to be totally honest, change

scared the crap out of me. Change only

brought pain: Seeing all my friends and

colleagues laid off. My son leaving for the

army. My wife dying. And me, growing old

and getting closer to the big end every day.

Change was lousy. But Mr. Sato was right. I

couldn’t stop it.

food, but they could be dangerous. I made

sure to move the old tranquilizer gun to the

nearest maintenance room by the Hyena

Yard. After some thought, I added a real rifle.

I locked it all up to be safe as possible, but I

felt better knowing it was available. There

might not be enough time for tranquilizers.

Weeks went by, and no one outside of

the Mr. Sato’s cronies noticed the changes in

the zoo. I began to hope that the old men

would get bored and leave, that Max’s

internship would run out and things would

go back to normal.

Then one of the dogs had puppies. There

must be some sort of scent puppies put out

that attracts children because whole swarms

of the little people seemed to materialize out

of thin air. They crowded my empty zoo, and

they brought their parents with them.

The kid’s new exhibits worried me: the

nuisance of the old men with white paint on

their feet and all the extra work they all

created. The worst was the dog exhibit. Max

had easily enticed a pack of mangy mutts into

the Hyena Yard with bits of bacon and

hamburger, but he refused to fix the fence.

“They have to come and go naturally,” he

said – as if keeping stray dogs in a zoo was

anywhere near natural.

Luckily, many of the dogs seemed content

to remain where there was a regular supply of

I only learned of the first article when Mr.

Sato pushed a newspaper under my nose.

The headline read “The Zoo of the Real: A

park past its prime embraces the avantgarde.”

There was a picture of Mr. Sato

contemplating a chess move, a zoo exhibit

sign in the foreground.

“I look good, don’t I?” he said.

I grabbed the paper from him. Inside

there were photos of pigeons, chipmunks,

swallows, and the puppies, of course. Even

old Ike had a photo. The caption said “the

traditional zoo animal now seemed out of

step with the new hip zoo.” Max was

described as a “rising star in a new generation

of social scientists.” The reporter appeared to

have fallen in love with the damn kid.

According to Mejora, the new zoo is a

reflection of our modern condition. “In some sense,

we are all living in cages,” Mejora said. “All of us

are under surveillance, not just terrorists and

criminals, all of us. The zoo of the real gives us a

chance to take a different look at the world we live

in now.”

Max’s so-called exhibits. Some even started

watching the old men play chess.

Perhaps the media was tired of reporting

on the terrorist bombings and continual war

on terror. Whatever the reason, they

pounced on the zoo story. Max appeared on

all the local TV stations. His “zoo of the real”

even made the national news, twice. I was

asked for interviews dozens of times. I refused

all of them. I took to hiding in my office.

To make matters worse, Max put up

donation boxes outside every exhibit and the

coins and small bills started to add up. I was

forced to make a budget and open a zoo

account, ironically enough, the things that an

interim zoo director would do.

My hands trembled. “That,” I said

stabbing the paper with my finger, “is

dangerous talk. Homeland Security has

probably opened a file on him, tapped his

phone, read his emails – and yours too, Mr.


“Relax,” said Mr. Sato. “It’s just some

harmless fun.”

“Fun? The kid is obviously young and

stupid, but you’re older than me. You’re

supposed to be smarter, wiser. Don’t your

people have a saying: ‘the nail that sticks out

gets hammered down’?”

Mr. Sato frowned. “My people? I’m

American. Maybe my great-great-grandfather

was from Japan, but I never heard of that

saying. And it’s a stupid one if you ask me.”

I decided that Mr. Sato had lost his mind.

From all the business from the next few days,

it seemed the whole damn world was right

there with him. The zoo began to live up to

its name, crowds of people braved public

exposure to gawk at the puppies and laugh at

Food cart vendors started infiltrating the

zoo. They provided the children with

ammunition. Soon the pigeons and the

ducks (Max had refilled the old seal-pond for

them) were being peppered with popcorn

and peanuts. I put up “no feeding” signs

everywhere, but there was no stopping the

teenagers from launching half-eaten hot dogs

into the Hyena Yard to watch the stray dogs

scrapple over them.

Even old Ike started to see some of the

action. The half-blind polar bear took some

time to locate a thrown hot dog. He still had

pretty good hearing though and a strong

sense of smell. He would wear himself out

standing on his hind legs, waving a paw in the

direction of any savory smell wafting on the

air. Then he’d pause to listen for the soft pat

of a hot dog bun hitting the cement.

Some homeless bums took advantage of

the chaos to put up their own exhibit. They

hopped the petting zoo’s low fence and

marked up a few cardboard signs with such

nonsense as “Homo sapiens drunkus” and

“Please feed the humans.” On my orders,

Max tried to talk them into leaving, but

instead, he ended up erecting another one of

his blasted signs, detailing the plight of the

homeless. And then there was another round

of media reports.

I kept my head down best I could. I took

special care to avoid the people wielding

notepads, cameras and microphones, but

somehow my picture got in the paper. I was

in profile with a broom, looking into the

distance. The caption read: “Long time zoo

custodian Franklin Tyler worries that the

zoo’s new-found popularity will make it a

tempting target for terrorists.” It was exactly

what I thought, but I sure as hell couldn’t

remember telling any reporter that. For

crying out loud, didn’t they realize that by

putting it in the paper only made it more

certain to happen? One columnist even had

the gall to predict the resurgence of all social

activities including protests.

I tried to warn the kid, but Max was already

working on his next press release. In this one,

he was touting of all things that ate trash: rats,

mice, bugs and worms! “Refuse engineers,”

he called them.

“These press releases daring them to

bomb the zoo!” I said.

“Relax, Franco,” Max said. “You’re too

paranoid, but who can blame you? That’s

how they want you to be. Hah!” The kid

pointed at the air as if stabbing one of his

bright ideas. “Maybe we should put you on

display: Frankenstein, the modern fearful


“I have a family to consider,” I said. “I

don’t have any fancy pink sheets to protect

me. I can’t afford to go to the hospital or jail!

All for your stupid exhibit game!”

He looked at me in disbelief. “Stupid

game? I think it’s you that doesn’t get it: This

is all a game: the terrorists, the war, the whole

thing. I’m just pointing it out.”

“Working, fighting for something you

believe in – for the safety and freedom of

your country, that’s not a game!” I took a

deep breath. There was no use in shouting.

“Besides terrorists or no terrorists, it ain’t

going to last. It’s a trend, your ‘zoo of the

real,’ a fad. It will be over when the next

thing comes along.”

“Not if I keep coming up with new and

better ideas,” Max said. “And I think you

just gave me a good one.”

“Just great. While you sit here with your

‘ideas,’ I’ll go feed the dogs something

besides crappy junk food. Someone has to

do some real work in this fake zoo!”

hot dogs, and the old polar bear had gone

crazy. Two dogs were already lying

motionless on the fake rock floor. As I

watched, the bear grabbed a third dog in

mid-leap with his jaws and neatly ripped

out the dog’s throat. The crowd gasped in

appreciative horror.

I knew who was going to win this fight.

The bear’s white fur was splotched with red

where a few dogs had managed to get in a

bite when he was dealing with another.

The motley group of mutts were circling

around the polar bear like a seasoned pack

of wolves.

As I headed toward the dog exhibit,

shrieks of terror erupted from the other

side of the zoo. This is it, I thought.

Somebody has finally bombed the zoo. For

some reason, I hurried in the direction of

the screaming instead of away from it. I

wasn’t trying to be a hero. Like it or not, I

knew I was the only real employee here.

I fought against a tide of people

running away from whatever’d happened.

My fears were confirmed in the shocked

faces flying past me. I prepared myself to

see something horrible: dead and injured

people, limbs and lives lost, blood

everywhere, but there was nothing. As the

runners thinned out, I saw that a small

crowd of people pressed up against

something, straining forward as if trying to

get a closer look. I suddenly realized where

I was: the bear pit.

I pushed my way through the crowd to

the rail. Then, I saw the blood. The dogs

were in the pit, probably came after Ike’s

It wasn’t fair, I thought angrily as I

turned and hurried to the maintenance

room. I had played by the rules, mostly. I’d

done my best to keep my head down. Not

to stick out and attract attention. But I

couldn’t let that fight go on, no matter

what it cost. I walked back to the railing

and fired the rifle into the air. Several

people screamed, and held their ears, but

they didn’t scatter. The dogs were only

slightly smarter. A couple took off at the

sound, but most of them stood their

ground, hackles raised, eyes locked on the

old bear. I counted five of them.

I ought to take every one of those

mongrels out. They had started it after all.

I lowered the gun. Time started to slow

down. I shouted for people to get back. I

aimed carefully. Somewhere in the

distance, I heard Max yell. It was too late

for any discussion. The boy would have to

learn the cost of his paradigm shift the hard

way. Mr. Sato was right. You can’t fight

change. You can’t avoid it, hide in your

cave, and hope it will pass you by. Change

will find you anyway and rip you a part. I

couldn’t help wishing I could have fought

it a bit longer.

I pulled the trigger. Old Ike reared up

briefly in surprise, then slumped down and

fell over sideways into the bright blue pool.

He sunk like a heavy stone, a purple plume

of blood rising in his wake. ◊

Michael Chrichton

Famed science fiction novelist Michael Crichton – who gave

us Jurassic Park, The Andromeda Strain, Micro, and Prey to name

a few culture-changing classics, presents a terrifyingly relevant

future in his final novel published in his lifetime.

“Is a loved one missing some body parts? Are blondes

becoming extinct? Is everyone at your dinner table of the same

species? Humans and chimpanzees differ in only 400 genes; is

that why an adult human being resembles a chimp fetus? And

should that worry us? There’s a new genetic cure for drug

addiction—is it worse than the disease?”

The scientific advancements we make in medicine, health,

and often other kinds of tehchnology, entertainment, and

luxuries, go through animals first. Sometimes, they depend on

animals entirely. Crichton’s Next tells the story of a world

awash with genetic engineering at every turn – for better or for

worse. And, like the advances described in most of his stories,

you should be afraid.

Blurbs, images and information

collected from listed URLs

November 2006


Dougal Dixon

“Dougal Dixon's work of speculative anthropology

blends science and fantasy in a stunning zoology of

the future. Looking 50 million years into the future,

this text explores the possible development or

extinction of the animal world through the eyes of

the time-traveller.”

After Man is a modern classic, one in a series of

speculative evolution works by this seasoned geo- and

paeleontologist. It famously explores the wildlife of a

whimsical potential future, in which mankind is gone

and the animals we know and love have evolved far

beyond our recognition. It was an early example of

what is now called “Speculative Evolution”, an

artistic genre that has proponents, fans, and works in

countless number, and has inspired many. Where

H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine explores human

evolution across some millions of years, Dixon’s

speculative nonfiction imagines a thriving world

beyond mankind, for what may have been the first

time. TV documentaries such as The Future is Wild

follow on in the tradition of tracing Earth’s

incredible menagerie forward through the millennia.

Ted Chiang

This sad and well-loved story explores what

something like Neopets, Nintendogs, or

Tamagotchis would become, should we have the

technology (and the financing) to take them as far as

they could go. Somehow both less and more than a

traditional pet, our nurturing and love becomes so

complicated when there’s debate about whether or

not its subject is real.

“…‘It can also be maintained that it is best to

provide the machine with the best sense organs that

money can buy, and then teach it to understand and

speak English. This process could follow the normal

teaching of a child.'

… [Chiang’s The Lifecycle of Software Objects is] a

story of two people and the artificial intelligences

they helped create, following them for more than a

decade as they deal with the upgrades and

obsolescence that are inevitable in the world of

software. At the same time, it's an examination of the

difference between processing power and

intelligence, and of what it means to have a real

relationship with an artificial entity.”

September 1998


July 2010


In November of last year, a Russian press release went

somewhat viral when it claimed that a dairy farm in Moscow

had created a prototype of a virtual reality headset for their

dairy cows, which was part of an experiment to use VR to

improve the farm’s milk yields.

- Ministry of Agriculture and Food of the Moscow Region,

November 25, 2019

This press release likens the use of a cowfriendly

virtual reality world to the rotating

brushes that some dairy farmers install for

cow enrichment (as cows love to scratch

themselves), or sound equipment used to

broadcast classical music – according to the

ministry, “the relaxing effect of which

positively affects milk output”. The idea is

that during winter, when cows are cold,

usually indoors, and their milk yields suffer

as a result, the virtual world they’d be

plugged into would trick them into

believing they are in warm, summer

pastures – with the aim of stimulating the

same milk output as they would under

those conditions.

Bizarre as it sounds, this prototype is real,

and the product of hundreds of hours of

research and development by a

combination of dairy farmers, engineers

and veterinarians, in an attempt to create

the best possible VR experience. The

housing of the technology was specially

designed for the shape and size of the

bovine head, as well as durable enough to

withstand winter weather farm conditions.

The visuals inside the headset focus on

warm, reddish hues, which, seeing as cattle

are more able to see and identify this part

of the spectrum than humans, better

represent their outdoor summer months

than the green pastures and the blue skies

that we might focus on ourselves.

According to the experts, the prototype was

something of a success. They're yet to

report the impact on milk yields (which is

being recorded in a comprehensive further

study), but can report a drop in anxiety

among the herd, as well as a marked

increase in their happiness and mood.

A similar idea was explored a few years ago,

when VR developer Second Livestock (a pun

on the popular online role playing game

“Second Life”, where players interact with

each other through created avatars in a

virtual world) posed the concept of a free

range virtual reality simulator for chickens.

The posed simulator would have grass and

streams and countless bugs for the chickens

to peck at, as well as contain all of the other

chicken players in the coop, exploring same

open, free range map. While the chickens

would think they were out, roaming the

countryside without a worry, they would in

fact be restrained in very small and

increasingly unnatural cages til they were of

optimum slaughter size.

- Second Livestock’s founder, Austin Stewart

Given this context, the

idea of VR for farm

animals seems to take a

little more of a sinister

turn. It’s all well and good (arguably) for

technologies to be used for the betterment of

a cow who is stuck inside for the winter for

their own safety, but the line definitely gets

blurred when we consider that the imperative

for creating a VR countryside for chickens to

roam in is to further force them into

cramped, unnatural, and inhumane

conditions – not to help them. If virtual

reality is used to replace physical enrichment

– like the brushes and music that the Moscow

food and agriculture press release mentioned,

or the scratch pads and perches that we offer

to barn and colony raised chickens now, are

we making a step backwards in how these

animals are treated, rather than forwards? Is

a farm animal being able to walk on a track

pad as desirable as an animal being able to

walk free on solid land? What satisfaction

would a farm animal get from pecking at nonexistent

food? Is the appearance of a freeroaming

world the same, to a chicken, as the

real deal?

To that final question, at least, the answer is

no. Visual stimulation is incredibly

important to humans, it is by far our

dominant sense, and the most important for

creating a virtual environment of us. This is

not true of all, or even most animals. While

an image could potentially create a positive

effect on the psyche of a chicken, a cow, a

horse, or any other potential player, this VR

is missing scents, breeze, temperature

changes, levels of communication, taste and

touch, as well as myriad other environmental

cues. As the researchers looking into the

cows’ ideal farmland discovered, the kind of

pictures that a VR developer might enjoy

would rarely work if inserted into a world

meant for another species. We’re yet to even

determine. For example, to what extent

chickens can distinguish colour, and the

associated psychological effects of such.

While the moving pictures and the sensation

of control might create some kinds of

reactions in certain animals – for example,

mice have been reported to show the same

aversion to height in a simulated virtual

experiment as they would to real heights, just

like humans do, and zebrafish have

interacted with animated virtual characters in

the same way they’d interact with strange fish

from an incoming school – it’s clear that a

good visual with a backing track is not

enough to replace the outdoors for the span

of an animal’s entire life story.

Chandler, S. (2019, November 19). Virtual

Reality Used to Relax Cows Into Producing More

Milk. Retrieved from Forbes:


Reedy, C. (2017, May 16). A VR Developer

Created an Expansive Virtual World for Chickens.

Retrieved from Futurism:

The Conversation. (2019, November 29).

Virtual reality won’t make cows happier, but it might

help us see them differently. Retrieved from The



Muh roamed the corners of what was, in

times past, his home.


Now he was prey. The hunter was on his

tail. He sniffed like a hound. Destroyed his

hideouts. Muh’s time was nearing its end.

There was no way out, and the Gods of

Water and Mist had stopped answering him

thousands of moons ago. So, he blinked his

purple eyes open and braced himself for the


The shot came at him as if in slow

motion: a flash of pain laced through his

translucent skin. For a brief moment, he

attempted to wiggle out of the electrical net

the hunter had thrown over his wounded

body, but soon he gave up. Muh understood.

It was a fair price. For too many eons, he had

postponed that moment of liberation and


Slowly, he let himself be dragged into

the void.

The sour taste of his fluids bathed his

body. He convulsed. His wound was severe.

He didn’t have to see to know that. Blind, he

dragged his tactile extensions that hung like

weak horns on his forehead to measure the

size of the fire hole that singed his guts.

Immense like a lunar crater. Painful.

He screamed in terror.

Water trickled through the hole in his

stomach. His body had turned into a flimsy

layer of skin and some bones as thin as fog.

He tried to keep his liquids from being

drained, but in vain. Soon he’d be as dry as

a root of that Red Winter of the Conquest

that already extended to several moons.

He couldn’t think any longer. Bits of his

guts spilled to the parched earth of his world.

He convulsed again, but he no

longer felt anything, not even the spasms of

his own body. Then he stayed still. He had

already fallen into the abyss, and

unconsciousness led him further and further

down. He couldn’t crawl or escape from the


“I’m dying.” His words trickled in a

halting mumble while the hunter rummaged

through his deepest liquids, but without

causing him, strangely, more suffering.

“The Death Gods of the Mist have taken pity

on my loneliness in the end. Luxo’s last


Miles Artsixten inched forward. The

dying prey’s screams hurt his eardrums.

They sounded like the pan flutes with which

the Earthling women entertained their party

guests, but much more pervasive. Miles

thought if he had to listen to that sick dog’s

lament for a few minutes, he would end up

losing his mind and shooting himself in

order to spare himself from the torturous


“Psst… creature.”

His hands were shaking. Certainly, his

aim wouldn’t be accurate. That morning of

pursuit and hunting had exhausted his

senses. He only wished that the day would

end once and for all so that he could return

to the refuge—not always warm—of the

base, with the prey in good condition.

“If they dry completely before death,”

Miles recalled, “the hide is useless. Pure shit

can’t be recycled not even as pulp for coats.”

He rummaged again through the dark

hole that pierced the dying animal’s flesh.

To his relief, although the shot had ruptured

some of the water bags—liquid testicles, as

the veteran hunters would say halfjokingly—at

least a dozen remained intact.

Sufficient. He hadn’t wasted his time like a

fool running through the forests on that

infernal planet of conical trees whose leaves

looked like blue and red bubbles, or listening

to the constant moaning of the plants he

stepped on in his tracks. At least, this time

the veterans wouldn’t make fun of him. Not

too much.

With a smile of sheer elation, Miles

loaded the last cartridge he had saved for the

hunt that afternoon. Slowly, like a gourmet

who savors the greatest dishes. Now that he

knew the water bags were safe, he could

slow down and savor the moment.

He rested the mouth of his gun on the

creature’s translucent head. It was important

to refrain from shooting fools and crazies,

because he could lose all the pay of that day

and his time. “My first prey,” he thought

cheerfully. “Let’s see what the fuckers at the

base say today. Shit! Eight hundred

megacredits for this hide, at least.”

He delivered the final shot, with the

elegance and calmness of a veteran.

The beast gave a deafening sigh, as if the

pan flute had been accidentally crushed and

broken into a thousand tiny bits.

“Shut up now!” shouted Miles as he

covered his ears.

“I wish these creatures would die in

silence,” he thought with a grimace. “But I

suppose it’s too much to ask.”

With the tips of his metal-toed boots,

which were as hard as knives, he touched the

creature lying dead at his feet. A trickle of

water ran across the earth. Almost nothing.

Then the silence fell. An absolute,

devastating silence.

The moaning shrubs on the planet

stopped wailing. His boots sank into the

leaf-covered ground. Metallic creaking. He

made clicking sounds with his tongue as he

wiggled it, restless, inside his mouth. But

nothing else.

A shiver ran down his spine and his

scrotum tightened. He needed human

company soon, even if it was only those

idiots at the base. He needed to be safely

away from this silent graveyard.

“Who knows? Maybe we do kill off

whole species,” he thought. “Perhaps I’ve

just killed the last of its kind.” He grimaced,

not convinced of his own words.

But anyway, what did it matter? Those

were the arcane laws of survival. No one

would judge the Earthlings for expanding

their domain beyond the boundaries of outer


It was simple: men had turned out to be

the creatures most likely to survive in the

war of conquest, while the indigenous

inhabitants on that planet scurried to hide

like scared rabbits in their bubble holes.

Humans had simply hunted the rabbits and

seized their world.

Big fish eat little fish.

Miles did quick mental math. The

Imperial Wrecks of the Earth had explored

the galaxy for centuries in search of some

intelligent being. In all that time, only ten of

the discovered worlds contained the miracle

of life. A lifeform very different from the

one the conquerors had expected: arboreal

pygmies, mutant animals covered with

scales, insectoids that possessed double

larynges and emitted the most incredible

dodecaphonic sounds, feline Siamese twins

that mated at all hours and everywhere.

Miles did the math. “We wipe them out. The


“A hunter never trembles before his

prey,” he reminded himself as his game’s

considerable weight almost caused his knees

to buckle. “Damn these frightened


He marched with steady steps through

the forests of bubbles and crystal, which

were silent for the first time in a long while.

In the meantime, the numbing cadence of the

red rivers forced him to move more slowly

than usual. His mind was full of thoughts

about his destination and the leap-years that

separated him from his home. He heaved an

anxious sigh.

The iron skeletons of the hunters’ huts

suddenly rose before his eyes.

Miles entered the base. He walked

almost bent by the weight of the dead beast.

It was really prized game. His ticket to join

the ranks of veterans. His amulet.

beasts lay in blind ambush among bubble

trees and leaped out with deafening roars.

“Bravo, bravissimo, dear friend,” the

hunters howled, emitting a cacophony of

cheers and curses. “Some of us were quite

certain that you’d come home emptyhanded.”

“Go fuck your mothers’ whores.” Miles

spat out in perfect English, although many

didn’t even understand a syllable and just

laughed at him. After all, few still

understood the cradle tongues that had gone

out of use so long ago. “Leave me alone,


He moved away from the group. He

drew his own knife. Carefully, he took a seat

among the veteran hunters – the place that

until that afternoon had been off-limits to

him and the rest of the rookies in the group

– and began his task. The metal walls of the

base shone as the particular odor of hunting

and carcass suddenly wafted through the air.

Six strokes of the knife on the beast’s

greasy hide were enough to remove it. Eight.

Ten. He carved his name on the flesh with

skillful movements. The tanning machine

would do the rest of the work.

“Well,” a veteran hunter on his right

smiled at Miles without looking up from his

own work. “Did it put up a good fight? Was

it fun?”

An orgy of deafening whistles received

him. The men gave him a big hand and

showered him with their usual swear words

while they busied themselves with

sharpening their knives and reloading the

diexs, those poison capsules that had saved

a veteran’s skin more than once. Quite a few


“That thing.” The veteran smiled again

and then hurled a curse in some dead tongue

Miles didn’t speak. “What the hell did it do?

Did it fight back?”

“No. It was a cinch. Nothing to it.”

“Same as all we’ve done in this damn

colony,” the other man conceded. “An

occasional diversion would do us good.

We’re getting rusty little by little. Listen to

what I tell you. Damn the day I signed the

papers to be here. Killing harmless

creatures! Speaking of which, it’s better for

us, although the damn peace on this planet

ends up frying my left hemisphere.”

“Better for us.” Miles bent over. The

fatigue began to crawl through every bone in

his body. “Why the left hemisphere?”

“Just because. C’est la vie.”

Miles’s face shrunk into a grimace as if

he had aged prematurely. With a slow

gesture, he picked up the hide, which had

already been tanned and made free of

contaminating agents, as the insistent call of

the machine went off. He ran his fingers

over the hide and caressed its texture, which

was both rough and exquisite. Then he

entered his cubicle.

Miles knew the hide would make life

much easier inside the base. “All mighty

megacredits,” thought Miles with a wry

smile. Good organic food and some fleeting

pleasure in the human contact simulators.

Nothing too sexual, just a hug would suffice.

“Like my mother’s hug,” he thought. “My

poor mother back home on Earth.”

A stab of loneliness shook him, but he

still continued to spread the hide over the

bare floor. Then he stepped on it. He was

surprised by the warmth that it gave off and

its scent that reminded him of forest, fog,

and water, as if the whole essence of that

planet were condensed in the piece. Red

seas, purple waves, crystal forests. Flameshaped

stones. Bubbles. Fire. Fear. The

beasts’ bloodshed eyes.

“If you could see all this, Mother.”


Old memories raced back to him in his

dream and led him to the sands of the Earth

he remembered as clearly as the day of his

departure. His mother held her handkerchief

etched with the blue cross of the First

Orthodox Church of Naurì, crossed herself

for luck on her sweaty forehead, and then

stretched out her hand in a wave goodbye

without tears.

He dared to dream of his return to Earth,

as someone a little older and richer. His

mother, all wide eyed and astonished, in his

memory hadn’t aged even a day and

wouldn’t die without seeing him come down

from a ship of the Imperial Wrecks.

“What could I give you, Mother?”

The hide between his fingers was still

hot, as if life existed beneath it.

He thought of his mother’s arthritis,

which not even the deepest prayers of the

pastoral congregation of the First Orthodox

Church of Naurì had been able to cure. He

remembered those pains and increasingly

colder nights on Earth.

“Mother,” he whispered and imagined

her wrapped in the body heat of his hunting

trophy, listening to the same noises of the

mysterious planet with bloodshed eyes and

breathing in that strange smell of birth and


“It’ll be for her,” Miles thought. He

already knew he wouldn’t be parted from the

hide no matter what happened.

and its most beautiful creations had turned

into a herd of beasts hidden in their holes,

which always left behind thousands of

indelible marks. Footprints that came in

handy for hunters who would sniff around

and annihilate.

He slept.

He dreamed of beasts gazing at him with

open scarlet eyes.

He just dreamed.

Soon he’d return to Earth.

It had to be like this.


He had a son. His name was Dird – The

Blessed One in the language of the Church

of Naurì. But he never got to see him grow,

smile, or contemplate the green forests on


Everything was so fast – like the cruel

rainfall that seeped into an anthill and

destroyed the work of generations.

For Miles, it was perhaps preferable.

War had already broken out. The fright

had begun.

Over the dome cities on Earth, the

silence was spreading. First slowly, then

overtaking everything. Waves of panic and

suicides. Screams that pierced the night.

Ships that flew over the skies like gigantic

water stains.

Meanwhile, humans beat themselves

with what was left of their pride. And still

many refused to admit to being prey.

“How did this happen to us?” Miles

wondered with a crazed look on his face. He

saw so much, yet had no idea.

Settler, hunter... and now prey.

Because while men struggled with their

ideas of conquest and expansion throughout

the known universe, Earth was attacked like

a helpless bubble that now - fifteen years

later - seemed to burst from one moment to

another. Flames swept the cities and fields,

and it was too late.

Conquest. Death.

Earth had fallen into a net. Big fish eat

little fish. Scrambling for survival, humanity

The enemies?

“Big fish eat little fish,” Miles recalled

with a naked smile, touching his body

covered in rags of what was once a soldier’s

uniform. Three years earlier, his own dome

city had been burned down as a defenseless

shack and the few who had survived the

encounter with the invaders fled with

useless hopes and memories. Nothing else.

“What do they have left to conquer?”

Miles lamented while he rubbed his aching


determine whether it was a rainy day or an

attack was imminent—flew over the skies

and then dropped a load of atomic plasma

that swept everything in its path: men, fields,

crops, domes.

Miles kept shivering at the dèjá vu. He

was perhaps the last man left alive on Earth.

Then he began to accept.

He knew resistance was a futile effort.

All his doubts and his pains were nothing

more than an unimportant thread in the

immense tapestry of the conquest. His time

had come to an end.

He began a long way back to the ruins of

what was, in times past, his home. He didn’t

want death to catch him by surprise, because

the few good memories he still had were

bound, no doubt, to the place where the

ashes continued to smolder, despite the

years that had passed.

Now he knew the feeling of running

away and getting caught. To be the beast the

conquerors - those giant Cyclops who

peaked at the world from the divinity of their

only eye - were striving to chase like rabbits.

Deafened from constant blasts, Miles

trod. In the distance, the dark figures of the

Cyclops still searched for a prey’s trail.

Bright green eyes like lighthouses found

his beast footprints.

A gigantic metal glove pointed at Miles,

and then he understood.

He had wandered from city to city for

several years. Crushed by a terrible fate,

each city had crumbled under the weight of

new masters. Conical ships—which were so

similar to clouds that it was impossible to

“I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die

like this,” he screamed inside.

He ran. He ran with all the remaining

strength, despite hunger and thirst. His

famished bones looked like rattles he had

hidden under a simple layer of skin. He ran

over the mute ashes, not daring to look back.

A dozen clouds began to swirl in the sky

and cover it with a strange metallic color.

Miles thought that it was another attack, and

that those conical ships would strike him

dead silently, in a few seconds. But no. It

was only the rain.

Then he stopped.

Then he froze completely.


Shaist-elxer, an illustrious Ikku and

Namar, stepped forward when he saw the

collapsed prey. He observed it in detail.

“These things are so weak,” he thought with

a grimace. The hunt hadn’t even been

exciting. He barely touched the carcass with

the back of his hand. It disgusted him.

He extended his fingers.

He couldn’t run anymore. His lungs

were broken bellows that groaned for rest.

Miles acquiesced.

“It’s useless trying to escape,” he

thought as the Cyclops’ steps came closer

and closer.

The conqueror shouted in his intelligible

language. Miles looked up, but he could

barely see anything other than those rain

clouds. He couldn’t hear or understand

anything. He stood still, his throat full of

pain and a bewildering peace that dazzled


One shot fired as if in slow motion: a

flash of fire struck his flesh and stopped, just

for a moment, his heartbeat. He collapsed

slowly, with a little pain and fury. He

couldn’t defend himself. He couldn’t stop

the Cyclops’ blows.

He coughed

He vomited his own blood.

A cold sweat covered his limbs and


“At least I won’t be the last one,” he said,

his teeth clenched in pain that pierced each

of his bones like an arrow.

An ikku couldn’t return to the Nest with

such a prey.

“I’ll have to look for another,” he

lamented for a moment and muttered his

curse at the damned planet.

Then Shaist-elxer walked impassive

through the few remaining forests on Earth,

the crash of waves closeby.

He stopped for a second to listen and

discovered right away that nothing buzzed in

his ears. He eased his pace while Earth’s

colors took shape in his memory and a

particular scent seeped into his sinuses.

Scents of seas and borders. Scents of fire

and seasons. Scents of life and death that

exploded in the last memory of his glory.◊

understand intelligence or sentience

equipped to tackle otherworldly species – or

even familiar species, outside of our own? If

a man killing a watery, inhuman creature on

its homeworld is acceptable, what arguments

do we have against the bigger fish killing us?

One of the smaller questions that Cyclic

Hunting could raise is one that is often

brushed aside in science fiction and

worldbuilding; if we were to come across an

alien world, just the right temperature and

with an atmosphere we could breathe, filled

with docile creatures what we could easily

hunt down, would we even be able to eat


This question is somewhat more complex

than it may at first seem. The eating is less of

a problem, per se – you could chop one up

and consume the pieces, certainly – but if

that “food” was incompatible with our

metabolic and digestive systems, you could

eat all the extraterrestrial steak you wanted

and still starve.

So, would we be able to digest them?

Elaine Vilar Madruga’s Cyclic Hunting raises

a number of big, philosophical questions

about the relationships that exist across

species; would our interactions with alien

animals be the same as those we have with the

animals here on Earth? Is the way we

The answer is that, depending on the kinds

of life we stumble across in our explorations

of the universe, it is possible we’d be able to

eat and exchange nutrients with alien life, but

exceedingly unlikely. Dr Gareth Corbett,

gastroenterologist at Addenbrooke’s

Hospital in Cambridge, spoke to Naked

Scientists on just this subject in 2018:

- Dr Gareth Corbett, Consultant Gastroenterologist

If the menu featured alien life that was

similar to us – more similar than we might at

first think necessary – there is a chance we’d

be able to tuck into some truly exotic cuisine.

The theory of

, a word

derived from the Greek πᾶν, meaning 'all',

and σπέρμα, meaning 'seed', is one which

denotes that all life in the universe, including

that on Earth, came from a single, original

source. Many imagine that this was a comet –

a small chunk of world that heated and

cooled as it passed across the regions of

warmth, light, and varying atmospheres that

it would come across in the uncharted

universe – which sparked that initial burst of

life. This comet, still on its inexorable course,

continued to arc arced across solar systems,

shedding fragments and ice and

cyanobacteria on one planet, or several, or

many, that evolved into every form of life

existing across the cosmos (or, according to

some versions of the theory, certain parts of

the cosmos) today. If this theory of the origins

of life were true, all life in the universe could

be constructed from the same few building

blocks that we, and all life on Earth, initially

came from.

Far-fetched as this theory may seem from a

scientific standpoint, it has its positives.

Mainly, it would require that life would have

sprung up from nowhere only once, not that

it came to be of its own accord a billion times

over in varying corners of space. Comets can

and do pass through planetary fields all the

time, shedding and dropping pieces and

gathering new parts to change its shape. Even

a single cell of the ancestral form of life

dropped into the right spot on the right

planet could get the ball rolling for all

generations to come – perhaps over, and

over, and over again.

This is a convenient theory for science

fiction writers, too. For example, it is part of

the reasoning behind Star Trek’s extended

lore of interbreeding between alien races, as

well as the fact that these races all took on a

very similar bipedal shape, size, and strategy

of communication: not only did it make it

more practical to film a TV show in the 60s,

but it was theoretically backed by one

credible strain of scientific thought.

Panspermia would also be helpful to us, as

interplanetary explorers, should we come

across a world abundant with animal life and

wish to use its resources, or terraform. Not

only would this life be carbon based, but it

would have RNA or possibly DNA, be able to

use some of the same amino acids that Earth

life is capable of using, and – most

importantly – be made out of substances that

we would be able to swap nutrients with. But,

keep this in mind; if there’s a chance that

we’d be able to eat them, it’s just as likely

they’d be able to eat us, too.

For us to eat them, though, this newly

discovered game would also have to subscribe

to Earth life’s same rules of –

something that Panspermia would not

guarantee. Chirality is a property in which

mirrored versions of certain molecules do

not act in the same manner as their opposite

counterparts, and may interact with life –

including humans – in unexpected, and

sometimes dangerous, ways. One example of

our understanding of chirality is that of

glucose. D-glucose – the one we normally eat

– is the primary fuel used by human cells to

generate the energy needed to carry out

cellular functions. It tastes sweet, helps the

body build and repair DNA, and provides us

useful calories that we expend as energy. L-

Glucose, however, the chiral mirror-image of

our familiar sugar, works very differently.

Although it may taste as sweet, it is

indigestible by the human body, and provides

us no calories, no nutrients, and no benefits

to our cellular function. It has historically

been marketed as an artificial sweetener (zero

calorie, seeing as we can’t absorb it), and only

a tiny number of Earth organisms would ever

be able to metabolise it. Luckily for us, it

didn't have any significant side effects that we

were aware of.

This isn't true of all chirality problems.

Famously, the chirality of thalidomide, a

drug formulated in the 1950s, had some

tragic effects as mankind discovered that,

while one form of the molecule cured the

symptoms of morning sickness, the other

created significant birth defects within

human pregnancies. Both chiralities were

unknowingly included in the medication,

and prescribed to tens of thousands of

pregnant women, resulting in as many as

20,000 victims of what came to be called

“thalidomide poisoning”.

If the molecules of nutrients, proteins, and

acids in the bodies of alien animals weren’t

formulated in the same chirality that we

humans are evolved to metabolise, not only

would consuming the meat harbour no

nutritional effect for us, but it could have

untold physical side effects on the human

body. Perhaps it would reconstruct our gut

bacteria, or help us to adapt to the new

surroundings, or do nothing except taste

good (or bad). Else, and probably more likely,

it could create dangerous mutations, even

shut down metabolic processes entirely – and

that's assuming the best-case scenario, that

these animals are made from the same

fundamental building blocks as we are.

If life evolved purely independent of the

origin of life on Earth, sans Panspermia, then

the alien game we discover would be so

unfamiliar to us that we’d be lucky to survive

taking a bite, let alone deriving any kind of

sustenance. The human body is proficient at

dealing with substances which occur in our

familiar niches on Earth. Our bodies can

tolerate relatively massive fluctuations in

nutrient intake, balance hormones, and

moderate digestive function based on the

food we ingest that we have evolved to

consume – even the historical diets of our

mothers, and our mothers’ mothers’ can have

effects on our finely tuned gut machine. On

the other hand, we tend to be very intolerant

of things we haven't encountered much

across the span of our evolution – to the

point that even trace amounts can be very

harmful or even fatal. Humans can become

incredibly sick simply being in the presence

of lead or mercury in sufficient amounts, let

alone eating them. If the planet we happen

upon is one whose life has evolved from a

lead or mercury-based ancestor, rather than a

carbon one, every creature in their food

chain would be capable of surviving,

digesting, and metabolising these molecules

that would immediately kill us. Considering

the amount of organic matter that evolved

right alongside us here on Earth that is still

poisonous to humans and all animal life,

there is a major chance that any alien

foodstuffs – even if they were more familiar

than not – would simply poison us all at first


Alongside this, given the fact that many

earth animals – humans included – have

developed the sense of taste largely to alert us

to when we consume something we shouldn’t

eat, it is more than likely that these alien

foodstuffs would be wholly unappealing. Our

sense of taste often kicks in when we eat

something that is poisonous, unripe, or

nutritionally void. We usually taste these

traits as bitterness or sourness, and most

people with instinctively put down whatever

it is they’ve tried to eat. In a similar vein, the

things we love to eat, often too much, at this

point in society, are things we are

evolutionarily suited to search out. Sweet,

salty, and rich foods were necessary treats in

short supply before the agricultural age and

the food security that eventually came from it

– and those are the flavours that modern

palates seek to replicate in the food we

choose to eat.

Not so, on our alien paradise. The meat of

animals that we have no evolutionary history

of, made from substances and molecules that

are unfamiliar to us, would likely set off all

kinds of warning signals to the curious

human taste tester, whether we needed them

or not.

If we’re chasing down alien livestock purely

for our pleasure or to add a fancy listing to

gourmet menus back on earth, then we might

be able to move past this. If, like the

characters in Cyclic Hunting, we’re hunting

unfamiliar beasts and harvesting unfamiliar

plants to survive, then even if it doesn’t kill

us, it'll take some getting used to.

Most terraforming plans are made without

the expectation of a lush biological ecosystem

on their target planet, and take special care to

define how they're going to feed whichever

terraformers they intend to leave there.

Sometimes these plans involve taking along

livestock, or freeze-dried seeds, or colonies of

mushrooms or the like. Unfortunately, with

the above science in mind, even Earth

animals and plants we took along with us to

our newly discovered living planet might do

little to solve our starvation problem. The

ground itself would be made of the same

unfamiliar organic matter as the roaming

animals. Even if our seeds could take root,

either they’d struggle to metabolise the

nutrients in the soil just like we would, or

they’d take on some of the same organic

properties and become partially poisonous,

toxic, or nutritionally void should we try to

eat them. Brian Aldiss’s 1958 novel Non-Stop

describes the poisoning of the whole

population of a ship of human terraformers,

thanks to an unfamiliar amino acid that their

crops took on as a result of being grown in

alien compost. Matt Damon’s character in

the very popular The Martian was only able to

(ingeniously) grow his thanksgiving potatoes

using compost made from whatever he could

scrape together from the dehydrated human

waste in his station – as waste from humans

was the closest thing on the planet to what

potato plants would be able to consume.

There are some small chances that we’d get

lucky – through chance, or through medical

science. If we found a world where we could

digest the animal life – though it’d be likely

that we’d be eating alien steaks more for taste

than for sustenance, as we wouldn't be able

to metabolise as much of their makeup as we

would of animals and plants that we’ve been

eating for millennia – it’s not infeasible that

we could eke out a living on a new

terraformed home, and perhaps as enough

generations went by, our digestive system

would realign to one more fitting to our

Earth 2.0.

In just the right ecosystem, there’s a chance

it wouldn't even take generations. A relatively

new medical procedure called a

(even more

recently, an oral medication affectionately

known as a “Poop Pill”), that can hold and

transfer the living bacteria present in the

digestive tract of a healthy person, has been

extremely successful in not only improving

overall gut health, but helping to create a

digestive microbiome in people suffering

severe digestive issues that allows them to

metabolise food that they previously had

been eating without gaining any sustenance.

Given the right environment, we could

potentially engineer a similar probiotic using

the microbiota within the animals on the

planet we have discovered, that would create

within us the potential to better break down

unfamiliar foods into individual elements

that we could digest, or detoxify without

having them harm us.

With Panspermia’s help, we might be able

to imagine an unlikely world in which

travellers from Earth would be able to alight

on faraway planets and create an agricultural

society among an unspoiled world of new

flora and fauna. Without it, the chances of us

being able to live as part of the food chain on

a planet filled with life unlike our own is

infinitesimally slim, even with the medical,

dietetic, and technological insights that we

have into food and human digestion – and

even if it didn't poison us, we’d barely be able

to stand the taste anyway.

Luckily for our present and future space

explorers, there are plenty of options for

feeding ourselves that don't include relying

on the alien fauna of planets yet to be

discovered. From nutritional algae to

synthesized meat tissue, some of our more

futuristic ideas are sure to be well in the

works before we set our first caravan of

interplanetary terraformers out into the

cosmos – and if we can eat the locals, that’d

just be a bonus.

Begley, S. (2017, May 4). Why Real Scientists Think

Aliens Would Never Eat Humans. Retrieved from


Public Forum. (2016, June 19). Would humans be

able to derive nutrition from foodstuffs found on alien

planets? Retrieved from Worldbuilding Stack



Ottman, M. (2018, June 5). Are aliens edible?

Retrieved from The Naked Scientists:



“Like many awesome ideas before it – and

many more to come, no doubt – its

ramifications turned out to be truly awful.”

JazzMind attended to the InfoStream subcranially,

feeling the mixed-emoting it

engendered with a degree of trepidation.

She was actually, physically afloat, standing

on the Plastific Ocean, wearing the LipidSac

SchurferSchoes she’d hired.

Her first day out alone, having graduated

from SchurferSchool only yesterday.

Her third day on the coast, on Expiration


“The Sharks were on the verge of

extinction. The proportion of plastic in their

diets had exceeded 50%, which looked like

being the final nail in their collective coffin.”

You enjoying this? interjexted


JazzMind was beginning to regret

accepting his IncludeMe. He had been the

most effective Comforter after X-

StingWisher’s horrific… expiry. But now,

having so quickly worked his way up her Sub-

C.LeaderBoard, his interjexts were becoming

too frequent… and sometimes too insistent.

Down-time needed, she responded; respect

for that required, she added, duplicating the

request to everyone on her -Board, partly so

as not to inflame 4DickenSake, jointly aware

she still owed a balance of ShareCare in that



Riding the ocean’s slo-mo emulsion

waves, she shuddered, understanding why

she’d thought in those terms, trying not to

picture her last image of X-StingWisher, her

International Fire Corps Local Team Deputy

Leader – and lover, she’d hoped – throwing

his already badly injured body onto the

burning tree in a last-ditch attempt to stifle

out the flames that threatened to engulf it

and destroy it forever.

industry’s by-product waste with which we so

littered their environment – we’ve helped

them to help us: they’ve become plastic-waste


Their team had failed, their hydrated

sand quota exceeded, and another of the last

few hectares of rain-forest was lost to the Fifty

Year Inferno… and the team was temporarily

disbanded – they’d all earned their rest, the

hardest of hard ways – and she’d been sent,

seemingly without any sense of irony, to the

ocean. To get her feelings back.

She refocused on the InfoStream.

“And then, in 2047, the SeeWorld Shark

& Ray Foundation’s Saviour Scheme was represented

to the UN Emergency Council for

Oceans and Seas, and this time, was


She was vaguely aware of a strange backeddy

between waves, requiring her to adjust

her stance. She bent one knee, pushed her

weight through the straighter leg, and twisted

her hips into the slope, as she’d been taught,

righting her balance and completing a neat

about-turn. The turbulence passed.

“With UN funding and SeeWorld

guidance, scientists across the globe worked

hard to genetically engineer the few

remaining species of shark, starting with the

Mako, to achieve a rapid adaptive evolution

into a genus of creatures that could thrive on

the plastics they couldn’t help consuming.

In essence, they became positively instead

of negatively corrupted by the petro-chemical

The -Stream’s voice was irritatingly

enthusiastic, invasively insistent (like

someone else). She worked hard to contain

her feelings of exasperation with it.

“And what’s the up-shot of this

remarkable achievement? Well, the sharks’

populations are booming… and the amount

of plastic waste in our seas is steadily

decreasing… proportionally. Re-sult!”

So: a solution for the emulsion, quipped


I thought I’d requested privacy?! JazzMind

snapped back.

You did… hmmmn, he responded.

It felt regretful, like an apology, of sorts…

but not really sincere; he didn’t actually

express remorse for Trojan-Ghosting her. She

wanted to enact a RetractAcceptance of his


But, no, not yet, she thought; one more


I heard that, he chimed in.

She felt an unsettling instance of blinding

rage. Biting back her fury, she managed to


Good. Serves you right! At least you know,


Then she felt it again, that peculiarly

disorienting churn of the emulsion under her

feet, causing her to shimmy and sway as if in

a frantic dance, until she’d found her balance

again. Perhaps it was just the tremors of her

anger rippling through her body, dissipating

through her limbs…?

She attended to the InfoStream once

more, in part to calm herself.

“However,” it went on, “there was, of

course, a problem… With the abundance of

their new food-stuff, and their ability to

integrate it into their bio-systems, enhancing

the efficacy of their cartilaginous hypostructures,

super-strengthening their musclespindles,

they have increased massively in size

as well as in number… And, of course, it’s not

only plastic that these incredibly efficient

eating machines want to consume…”

JazzMind thought she heard a slight

hissing or whistling noise. She wasn’t sure if

its source was external to her body or not.

Had she unwittingly made that sound? Had

it emanated from someone on her -Board?

From 4DickensSake?

“Although,” the -Stream’s voice was

reassuring her, “fortunately… plastic is still

their favourite food… especially the really big


‘Yeah, gr-e-a-t,’ she spoke out loud, as she

sidled down the back of another swell; ‘so out

of Mako shark and plastic, we’ve remade the

fuckin’ Megalodon! How’s that for a result!?’

And before long, we’ll be eating the damned

things in fish-burgers – there’ll be nothing much

else left in the seas to make them from!

For fucksake, 4DickensSake – now you’ve

really blown it: I’m going to RetractAccept your


Maybe you will and maybe you won’t… maybe

you can… and maybe you can’t…?

‘If there’s any goodness left in this world,’

she pleaded aloud, ‘let me find and channel

its strength, now!’

Then she heard the whistle-hiss again,

and felt the turbulence pulling emulsion

away from under her foot-floats. And for the

first time, realizing how far out she’d

wandered from the shore, she connected the

two… and it occurred to her that there might

be sharks out here – oh, the bleak and bitter

comedy of it – there might even be those


She twisted violently on the spot, bobbing

erratically, like a buoy in a storm, as she

looked about her in earnest, panic rising

belatedly in the back of her throat.

‘It’s okay,’ she told herself, hearing the

quavering of her voice on the hot breeze; ‘as

per the training, there’s no plastic in these

LipidSac SchurferSchoes, nor in this

UvGuard moisture-suit… nor much in me…

nothing to attract them–‘

What about your shin-guards? 4DickensSake

wanted to know.

Right, you arsehole: that’s it! Now I’m

definitely –

But he was right.

Running low on funds, and very much as

an after-thought, she’d hired the cheapest

ones on offer… probably, she worried now,

made from recycled waste plastic.

She turned towards shore and began her

journey back to the safety of the grey bead

beach in as smoothly controlled slide-strides

as she could muster, concentrating on her

memory of the old video of cross-country skiing

she’d been shown during the

introduction to SchurferSchool just three

days ago.

When she heard the hiss-whistle again,

faint, but distinctly there, coming from

behind her, she could not stop herself from

slowing to look over her shoulder.

JazzMind was terror-stricken to see a small

dark triangle breaking surface about 20

metres in her wake… which kept rising, and

rising, as it approached… until it stood proud

of the surface, taller than her, like a great grey

sail. As it sliced through the emulsion,

streaming slimy strings of it into the air, it

made that sound.

With a shriek struck dumb on her dry

tongue, she turned and fled shore-wards, her

flailing feet getting her nowhere.

And then, unbelievably, she felt a coldhearted

mirth, inside her head, cruel

laughter, that was not her own.

Surely it wasn’t the shark’s?

Surely it isn’t.

4DickenSake! What – are you some sort of

Sensation-Hacker!? A Doom-Monger? A–

Get rid of the shin-guards, dummy!


Stop running. You’ll have two or three seconds

to take off your shin-guards and throw them to the


He was right, again, she realized – the

bastard was right.

She stopped thrashing her foot-floats

against the surface, took one valuable second

to regain her balance, bend both knees and

hunch down to reach behind her calves. Her

clad fingers fumbled with the release-clips,

but her desperation gave her a speed and

strength she didn’t know she had. She

managed all four clips, two with each hand,

and wrenched the plastic guards away from

her legs.

Then she felt her back suddenly cooling

as the fierce sun-light was blocked out by the

great head of a monster shark as it fully broke

surface. She lost her balance as the bow-wave

of its ravenous approach hit her, and

tumbled as its gaping maw opened, wide as a

garage door, sucking emulsion and her

towards rows upon rows of teeth, an army of

massive and wickedly glinting spear-heads.

As she felt herself being drawn inwards to

a certain and excruciating… death… she

hurled the shin-guards before her and

managed a final kick with both feet against

the leading edge of the creature’s lower jaw,

propelling herself backwards and away from

the crushing, devastating bite.

Now, 4DickensSake interjexted, just stand

up… be still… and let it chew on those…

‘Wow! That’s what I call exciting!’ Charlie

Wordsmith a.k.a. 4DickensSake enthused as

he thrust his chair back from his PodStat, his

voracious gaze glittering in the glow of the

live-feed’s holographic interface.

“That’s it for today, loyal followers,’ he

announced, as he unplugged the real-time

relay chips from the sockets in his temples;

“another close call from Great Escapes.

And… as you would expect… tomorrow

there’ll be another fine example of Gruesome

Demises – I’m sure none of you switched-on

and sophisticated subscribers will want to

miss the Recall I’ll deliver… of the fiery expiry

of the afore-mentioned and somewhat

ineffective X-StingWisher!” ◊


A few years ago, Spanish biologist and

hobby beekeeper Federica Bertocchini

was struggling with a waxworm

infestation in her beehives. These

worms, larvae of the Galleria mellonella

moth, are often found inside

honeycombs, eating honey and the

harder-to-digest wax created within.

One way of getting rid of these worms

is simply by picking them up and taking

them elsewhere – which is exactly what

Bertocchini did. However, while

collecting all of the worms she could see

into a plastic supermarket bag,

Bertocchini soon noticed that the pests had freed themselves by eating through the inorganic

plastic as if it were just another garden leaf. Such an observation was too strange to pass up;

she contacted some colleagues at the University of Cambridge with this find straight away.

A little experimentation revealed some amazing news: the waxworms weren’t just biting

through the plastic and escaping, as Bertocchini might have feared; they were eating and

digesting the inorganic polyethylene, and somehow transforming it into ethylene glycol – a

wholly organic compound.

This discovery was a radical one – possibly one that could

solve our immediate plastic crisis, and save the planet from

drowning under its already extensive layer of plastic-brimming

landfills. Amazingly, though, the observation of these

waxworms was not the only example of plastic-eating

organisms that we have stumbled upon. In 2015, Stanford

University scientists reported that mealworms (the type that

you feed to pet reptiles) can turn Styrofoam into carbon

dioxide and insect droppings that may – it is as yet

inconclusive – be safe as soil for growing crops for human

consumption. A plastic-eating fungus – one of many – was

discovered colonising polyester polyurethane in a landfill in

Pakistan in 2017. In Japan, a plastic recycling dump was the

discovery site of a bacteria that has evolved to live exclusively

on plastic, that produces an enzyme that breaks plastic down into its original (organic)


Tempting as it might seem to simply take this bacteria (or mealworm, or fungus) and release

it into landfills the world over, we produce and throw away plastic at such an extreme rate that

no realistic population of these organisms would be able to keep up with the supply. Instead,

if researchers are able to isolate the enzyme that the bacteria uses to transform this inorganic

material into organic (and therefore biodegradable) waste, then perhaps this can be reproduced

on a grand enough scale to reabsorb plastic waste as it is thrown away, and to empty the landfills

of the mountains of rubbish that, otherwise, could outlast the lifespan of the human race.

And this is exactly what they did. By isolating, tweaking, and redirecting the enzyme

responsible for this magical outcome, they were able to improve its efficiency by as much as 20

percent from that originally produced by the plastic-eating bacteria.

– John McGeehan, Institute of Biomedical and Biomolecular

Science, Portsmouth University

This process describes what could become

a comparatively eco-friendly, small carbon

footprint alternative to the majority share of

the recycling industry today, not to mention

one with a further reaching span (considering

some plastics are much, much more difficult

to recycle than others, even at industrial

plants) and one with a biological, organic

baseline, which has a good bearing on our

many attempts to lessen the effect of nonbiodegradable

influences on our lives, rather

than encouraging more.

But, this re-organicising, recycling enzyme

is only part of the story. Most of the

organisms we’ve discovered with the ability to

break down and utilise plastic as a nutritional

substrate will have a very specific kind of

enzyme (in the gut microbiota, for those who

have guts) to thank for their ability. This gut

microbiome is what would be of real interest

to a scientist trying to create plasticconsuming

species like the sharks described

in Great Escapes.

Theoretically, if one organic, biological

creature can develop and survive on a

digestive biome that includes plastics, then

tweaked aspects of this biome could be

introduced to the digestive systems of other

species. Paolo Bombelli, a biochemist at the

University of Cambridge, even suggested to

the Washington Post that engineered E. coli,

commonly found bacteria in the human gut,

could perhaps be coaxed into producing the

same enzymes that the above wax worms used

to eat and digest the plastic supermarket bag

in which they were being carried. While it

might be a long shot to imagine a highly

complex creature surviving exclusively on

plastic waste in the way a bacterium can

today, an idea like this could mean that

plastic that is inadvertently consumed by

animals could, finally, lose a little of its

harmful edge.

Marine animals come into contact with 12.7

million tons of plastic entering the oceans

every year. Sharks and sea turtles mistake

plastic bags for jellyfish. Penguins, seals, and

water birds mistake shiny waste for reflective

fish. Filter feeders swallow whatever happens

to be in their path as they're searching for

their planktonic staples. These plastic shards,

pieces, or grains of microplastics build up in

the gut of these animals until they are

eventually killed by them. In this imagined

future, perhaps, we’ve found a solution

whereby the plastic we funnel into the ocean

gets broken down, digested, and even offers

some nutritional value, to the animal in

question. While this would not be a viable

solution in the long run, it could certainly be

a start.

Guarino, B. (2017, April 25). These pesky

caterpillars seem to digest plastic bags. Retrieved

from The Washington Post:


HBO. (2018, May 13). Scientists Accidentally

Discovered A Plastic Eating Enzyme That Could

Revolutionize Recycling (HBO). Retrieved from




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