We love to imagine how biotechnology might one day enhance our fleshy bodies, but too often Earth’s wildlife are left out of the future entirely. Enter Kathryn Fleming’s future zoo, filled with a menagerie of fantastical, slightly disturbing, genetically modified mutants.
With last year’s sobering news that 40% of all wild vertebrates have disappeared from the planet, and many experts saying the sixth mass extinction is upon us, the future for Earth’s wildlife often looks grim. But we’re also entering a new era of biotechnology, with genetic tools that might allow us to create species from scratch or “de-extinct” lost ones. Rather than accepting a future without wild animals, could we harness synthetic biology to “evolve” nature alongside our world?
That’s the question which inspired this bizarre assemblage of Avatar-esque hybrids. These particular creatures may never see the light of day, but the point here is to get us thinking about how we might bring Earth’s wildlife into the future with us. Here’s how Fleming describes the project:
Utilising taxidermy and various techniques of scientific model making, each diorama is meant to create a picture of reality that convincingly conflates the potential of science with the possibilities of fiction. By grounding each creature’s anatomy in existing morphology (a branch of biology structure within organisms and their specific features), these animals represent a speculative morphogenesis that should raise awareness of the remarkable adaptations already existing within ecologies, but also prompt viewers to question what types of experiences could be created by involving technology, human desire, and imagination in the future of our coevolution with other forms of life
And here are some lovely photos of the beasts, along with field guides explaining their key adaptations. All images are courtesy of Kathryn Fleming.
This arboreal tree porcupine, which looks a bit like Sonic the Hedgehog’s Knuckles reimagined by Dr. Seuss, is an accomplished nest-weaver and a master of camouflage. Also, it’s got a strong, sharp beak, which contains specially modified electrosensory cells that enable it to precisely detect ant colonies.
Part giraffe, moose, deer, and maybe a few other things, this rather ungainly-looking “superbivore” uses its augmented hooves to climb over rocks and along wires. You wouldn’t want to get in a tussle with those antlers.
The Retro-Reflective Carnivore
This canine-feline hybrid predator uses its metallic pelt to bounce light right back at you. You’ll never know its coming—until, of course, it rips you to pieces with its Pleistocene style, sabre-tooth fangs.
You can learn more about Fleming’s quest to reimagine wildlife and future zoos on her website.