's 2016 Horror Write-off:

Disaster Park

Submitted by Hisham Hasan

Cloning dinosaurs was a disaster.

For one thing, the oxygen levels in our current atmosphere are too low. Our dinos were dying, often before they could even hatch. We could incubate the eggs and hatchlings in an oxygen-rich environment, but we couldn't very well have each dino on a respirator for the rest of its life.

We tried to compensate by increasing their hemoglobin and red blood cell counts. It worked but giving them polycythemia made them more susceptible to blood clots. So we engineered them to have decreased coagulation. We solved the blood clot problem, but now our dinos are hemophiliacs, prone to bruises and bleeding out.

But keeping them alive was only the first hurdle. Managing them was a whole other can of worms.

It's very difficult to envision how an animal may have lived based just on its skeleton.

Take the dipper, for instance. An ordinary songbird in outward appearance, you would never guess that this little bird plunges into streams and swims underwater to feed on aquatic insects. 

So it should come as no surprise that we knew exactly diddley-squat about what living dinosaurs are like.

Oh sure, you can extrapolate a few things. A stegosaur certainly can't climb a tree, but you won't know whether it was solitary or social, peaceful or aggressive, a tool user, whatever.

The very technology that made cloning dinosaurs possible, the polymerase synchronize torrent cascade, didn't help matters. It was highly effective at re-assembling a complete DNA strand from fractured pieces (using multiple broken fragments simultaneously as templates), and highly specific for a particular animal while capable of ignoring microbial contaminants (so no chance of engineering an ancient plague), but only as long as the DNA came from a single source, i.e. a single fossil.

In order to get a fully functioning genome, you had to get DNA from multiple fossils. And it was difficult enough to be reasonably sure of the genus, never mind about species. And PSTC would splice it together indiscriminately.

Practically all the dinos were intraspecific hybrids at the very least, and many were intergeneric. And we had a heck of a time figuring out how many chromosomes each beastie had.

So in the end, we couldn't refer to our Frankensteinian dinos with scientific monikers; the best we could do were generic terms, like hadrosaur or tyrannosaur.

And we could never be sure whether our animals accurately portrayed genuine dinosaur behaviour, or whether some of it was due to their mixed pedigree.

Take our triceratops. Sure, they ate the browse we provided, and stripped all the bushes in their enclosure and enjoyed the treats of sugar cane and sweet potatoes. But it turns out they're omnivores. In the sense that a wild boar or grizzly bear is an omnivore.

They discovered humans were quite tasty and easy to squish. They'd even eat the clothes if they were hungry (or ornery) enough, and crack the bones to get the marrow. They were also foul-tempered; brush against a 'tops and it would swat at you with its head; its spiky, three-horned head. And once it smelled blood all hell would break loose. Add in the ability to raise themselves up on their hindquarters for short periods and a beak that could puncture body armor and bite through cage bars and nylon ropes, and you'll see why working with the 'tops was so hazardous. They were like rhinos crossed with hippos, except with three horns.

And don't get me started on the cannibalism. They were constantly trying to establish dominance, and always clashing horns and butting heads. And with the impaired blood clotting we engineered into them, fatalities were common. They made for a very poor (and short-lived) exhibit.

And if you think the true herbivores were any better, think again. The microbes that made up their highly complex gut flora had long died out, and apparently contemporary microbes just couldn't fill the void

End result? Diarrhea. Diarrhea central. Rivers and floods of the stuff. Slimy liquid sludge that smelled like rotten sewage. Our herbivores literally shat themselves to death; none of them made it to adulthood.

And the tyrannosaurs were just plain weird. They were meant to be the star attraction, of course, but they were just so weird to look at. They were incredibly ugly, with their strange wiry feathers, and various caruncles and wattles, and big fleshy lips that hid their teeth and made them look disapproving all the time. And they didn't roar; they howled. Howled like humpback whales trying to crow like a rooster.

And let me tell you, it was an utter shock one day to see a tyrannosaur squat, expel a gelatinous sac, pick it up in its tiny arms and then try to cram it up another tyrannosaur's cloaca. A spermatophore. It did not end well, but at least we figured out what it used its tiny arms for. Less "arms" and more like "pedipalps".

Now the raptors. Turns out Utahraptor wasn't a single species or even genus, but a whole complex of similar species. The genetic material was notoriously rare, and we had no way of confirming if all our sources were genuine Utahraptor, or even North American in origin.

The end result was impressive though; huge, sleek-feathered beasts. Although they didn't fit the public's image of them, we thought they might be a big hit nonetheless.

After the fiasco with the tops, we decided to hand-rear all the raptors, no exception, so they would imprint on us. It was only partially successful; they imprinted alright, but only on those specific caretakers.

Yeah, turns out they can tell individuals apart. And they're extremely territorial, very intolerant of outsiders, so any non-imprinted human is treated as an intruder and met with threat displays and chased away. And if they refuse to leave, they will attack.

And raptors engage in a lot of play-fighting. And seriously underestimate their strength and overestimate the durability of humans.

We put them in a repurposed tiger enclosure. Seemed logical at the time; plenty of open space.

I guess if any of us had ever kept chickens we would have known. A chicken can't soar like an albatross or zoom around like a pigeon, but they can certainly flap hard enough to propel themselves short distances. Did you know a domestic chicken can clear a fence as tall as a man?

It turns out that Utahraptor can fly like a chicken.