Woolly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive One of History’s Most Iconic Creatures

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April 16, 2018 by readingoutside


Have you ever thought, “Hey, I’d like to read a non-fiction narrative account of how they’re trying to revive woolly mammoths, written in the style of Dan Brown?” Yes? Then this book is for you!


Our friends at the La Brea Tar Pits. Photo by me, April 2017

I’m saying this from a place of love, because I actually enjoy Dan Brown (I’m reading his latest book right now). A serious scientific study this ain’t, but what it lacks in dry academic reading it makes up in heart and determination. It’s written like a movie script, which I can guess was author Ben Mezrich’s intention, given that two of his books have been turned into movies. (Oh look! This one is being adapted too. What a surprise).

The real reason I read this book, I confess, is a deep and abiding love for woolly mammoths. They are the reason I dragged my husband numerous times to the ROM and lingered longingly in the Ice Age section. (Well, that and the passenger pigeon exhibit. I have a thing for extinct animals).  Lest I be accused of favouring dead animals over currently endangered ones, I adore elephants too.  Really, I adore all animals. When it comes to animals, I am of the “more the merrier” mentality. Except for humans, but that’s another rant for another day.

Anyhoo, Woolly is as much about the people who are helping to revive the Ice Age beasts as the mammoths themselves. The story is focused primarily on George Church and his lab team, who are here portrayed as scrappy, maverick scientists trying to do what no one else has ever done. It is exciting stuff. Of course we’re not there yet, although the book does take a walk into the speculative near future.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “I’ve seen Jurassic Park. This won’t end well.” Reader, I hear your concerns. I too love mammoths and want to touch them and brush their woolly coats and rub their bellies, but am worried about how they could possibly be reintroduced to the wild. But hear me out! What if I was to tell you that reviving the woolly mammoth could actually prevent the escape of greenhouse gases, thus slowing the course of Global Warming? That’s right, mammoths can help save the planet!

This is the experiment being tried by father and son team Sergey and Nikita Zimov in Siberia. Pleistocene Park is a decades-long project that involves letting large, wild animals roam over the tundra, stirring up soil and exposing it to the cold air. This maintains the permafrost and prevents millions of tons of carbon dioxide and methane from escaping into the atmosphere. Pleistocene Park is a mere 766 km from Wrangel Island, the last home of the mammoths 4000 years ago.

If you have half an hour and a burning curiosity to learn more about the park, check out this documentary of Sergey and Ivan working on their amazing project:

I am quite amazed that there is a “best-seller” and a “blockbuster movie” story to be had in woolly mammoths, but I guess it is pretty surreal that I may live to see a world where they roam once more.  I am here for it, friends.


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