By Felix Winternitz
It’s more than a hundred years come and gone since the last passenger pigeon on this planet, a copper beauty by the moniker of Martha, perished at the Cincinnati Zoo. Now, the play-land’s genetic sequencing czars are apparently preparing to revive the late, lamented species.
For sure, most berserk cloning activists across the globe are squawking loudly in face of a stunning “quiller” memorandum – a birdbrain proposal, if you will– recently leaked in a Snowden tweet and later confirmed through a viral bird’s-eye “peep show” on YouTube. So people are definitely talking. Rumor is, these zoologists intend to parcel out passenger-pigeon pro-creative parts, chromosomes (long preserved inside a block of ice), with of all wild things, a bald eagle.
So what here could POSSIBLY go wrong? For newcomers in the room, we offer a ruffling chit-chat with the chief stew-ologist at the Cincinnati Zoo and Soup Gardens, the esteemed Doctor F.N. Stein.
First question: You’ve applied to the government, Doctor Stein, for permission to reverse engineer an entirely fresh species, crossing the biological strain of a passenger pigeon with the grand symbol of our once-proud country, the iconic Bald Eagle, to create a so-called Passenger Peagle. Isn’t this flighty concept something akin to crossing kittens with puppies- producing what, Kuppies, Pittens?
“A fascinating query. It reminds me of a fact-finding mission I took to Guatemala last summer, in search of the Horned Guan Orcophasos derbianus. The natives call this spry fellah the “Flying Unicorn.” Now, back on point, if you are actually asking me WHY the Cincinnati Zoo of all places is breeding “pass-pigs,” as I prefer to call ‘em, well, I acknowledge the Queenly City is not routinely considered the eugenics capitol of the world. But we do possess in hand the only earthly cellular remains of the very last passenger pigeon on the planet, “Martha,” and her DNA sequence stringies belong to us, thank you very much (so don’t you dare tread on her piddle-biddle molecules until we’re totally done culturing).”
Astounding. So it’s your nimble scheme, Mister Green-genes, to shake up Martha’s genomes in the mad laboratory equivalent of a Cuisinart, toss in some heaping teaspoons of predatory raptor BBQ wings and graft a whiff of carnivorous subatomic essence, all just to witness what baffling bootleg molecular mass might eject? Hmmm. What could be the down-side with this peculiar pecking order, other than to disrupt the biological order of the ages?
“You absolutely fail to glimpse the panoramic picture, the bird’s-eye view. We are talking fertile ground here. I have a vision of recuperating America’s once-great prairie lands restored to their native state, to a past century of yore when trillions and trillions of these stupendous critters traversed the cloud atlas, regenerating like rabbits into the most prolific beak brand in North America. In the mid-1800s, the migrating buggers could turn the heavens black for hours, eclipsing the sun while emitting a sound best described as fierce mudslide gurgle. These innocent lovelies harmed no one (their voodoo pooh-doo excepted); the squabs simply thrived on their benign diet of beechnuts and buckeyes.”
Twitchy. But back to smidgeons of homing pigeons fabricated from across creation’s eggy eons, your mutant cockatoo progeny, your particle-accelerated birds on the fringe. You’re up to a notion no less than remixing and re-mastering the Intelligent Architect’s handiwork, all to restore the universe to what celestial balance, exactly?
“Yep, we are certainly busy here reshaping the fluttering cosmos. What better state than Ohio, where hunters sniped the last-recorded wild pass-pig, the wholly quail."
Sketchy. So back to terra firma, if you can manage to reach sub-orbit. ... You say you’re turning to the test tube (well, hello, Dolly!) to encapsulate all the inherent sex appeal of locust plagues, flying cockroaches and eerie cicadas – all wound up into one impeccable bug-eyed creature with feathers and a predatory razor beak?
“No comment. Oh, did I happen to notate that esteemed ornithologist John James Audubon first documented the carrier pigeons in his immensely illustrative journals, while he was still executive stevedore and exterior taxidermist for the Cincinnati Natural History Museum & Ye Olde Curiousity Shoppe. That was surely back in the day, when the institution proudly displayed shrunken pygmy skulls, Marsha Brady memoirs and Tea Party position papers. All this billow talk should surely make sweaty copy for you and your newsroom colleagues.”
Random. So Martha picked Cincinnati to take her ultimate dirt-nap, flapping herself as she did along a blue skyway to the Big Nowhere?” Don’t depend on any winged rumors or cackling gossip here. The fox is in the hen-house.
“It’s not the proudest moment here at our Betty Crocker Zoo-Soup and Britannical Gardens. Or “Zupe” as our excellent marketing department now phrases it. Poor Martha went to her reward at the distinguished age of 29 years.”
Disturbing diatribe, Doc. Kerplunk!
“Darwin! My fall-back stock response in these kind of pernicious interviews, above all else fails, is “Darwin.” Call it my-can’t-lose escape claws. Quoth the Raven, never-much-more. That, and I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout birthin’ no whiffling preschool pigeons.”