Qs From Kids: Could a Mammoth and Elephant Mate?

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This blog is part of a series “Kids’ Questions Answered,” where we consult the experts to find the best answers possible to children’s confounding queries.

Question. Could a cloned wooly mammoth mate with an elephant? (from Ben, who is nearly 9)

Answer: Yes, they probably could mate.

The first step would be cloning a woolly mammoth, which last walked the Earth about 10,000 years ago.

Some scientists hope to extract DNA (organic material that holds the instructions for life) from a frozen mammoth and insert it into an elephant egg to create an embryo.

The embryo would be implanted in an Asian elephant, which is actually more closely related to a mammoth than to an African elephant. Then the elephant would give birth to a baby mammoth.

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Even if a mammoth could be cloned, an important question is whether the the mammoth and elephant would even want to mate, said Darin A. Croft, a professor in the School of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University.

“Most species do not recognize other species as potential mates,” Croft said. “However, matings have been reported between Asian and African elephants, which are more distantly related to one another than a mammoth is to an Asian elephant, so it is possible.”

And after the hard work of cloning an animal that lived during the last Ice Age, mating it with an Asian elephant, and producing a baby, would the offspring be healthy?

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“Few African-Asian elephant offspring are known (perhaps only one) and none has survived to adulthood,” Croft said. “The odds are low that a mammoth-Asian elephant offspring would be able to reproduce even if it were to survive to reproductive age, as most hybrids of different mammal species are sterile.”

So, yes, it’s theoretically possible to mate the two, but it’s also unlikely the offspring would grow into an adult.

Image: Corbis