8

A comment on this question led me to read about the Golden Snidget on Pottermore (emphasis mine):

The Golden Snidget is an extremely rare, protected species of bird. Completely round, with a very long, thin beak and glistening, jewel-like red eyes, the Golden Snidget is an extremely fast flier that can change direction with uncanny speed and skill, owing to the rotational joints of its wings.

The Golden Snidget’s feathers and eyes are so highly prized that it was at one time in danger of being hunted to extinction by wizards. The danger was recognised in time and the species protected, the most notable factor being the substitution of the Golden Snitch for the Snidget in the game of Quidditch. Snidget sanctuaries exist worldwide.
- Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

We see that skilled witches and wizards are easily able to transfigure inanimate things into animals:

Then [McGonagall] changed her desk into a pig and back again. They were all very impressed and couldn't wait to get started, but soon realized they weren't going to be changing the furniture into animals for a long time.
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 8

So my question is, why would any animal (although I have provided only the Snidget as an example, I'm sure there are be more) be on the verge of extinction if it's fairly easy to perform a transfiguration and create more of them? Are there any rules or regulations in place prohibiting doing this?

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    This has been answered already, but please always remember when asking yourself something like this: "Why isn't something done that could be done?" should always be connected to a good motivation to do that thing. Why would you transfigure stuff into extinct animals? What's the purpose? There are not that many wizards, most would not devote their entire time to saving lost animals, especially since it is made clear multiple times that they don't really care about animals as society as a whole. So even if it was possible, why would they do it? – Raditz_35 Mar 27 '18 at 8:35
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    Considering the fact that they care enough to ban the birds' use in Quidditch, I think it's fair to assume that there are some people who would do it if they could, no matter the time and energy they'd have to spend. – sudhanva Mar 27 '18 at 9:16
  • But if they can just create them at any point, why bother? If they are needed at one point, you can just make them. Releasing them into the wild and making sure they survive is a bothersome business. – Raditz_35 Mar 27 '18 at 11:24
  • Fair enough. Had not thought of it that way. – sudhanva Mar 27 '18 at 15:32
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    @raditz_35 I feel like the question "why isn't this done" does not require an explanation of incentive when we have analogous real life examples of people wanting to do it for its own sake. And we most definitely have examples of people and organizations working to preserve various endangered species - and whose only motivation is preserving said species, regardless of the use we as humans could derive from them. – Misha R Mar 27 '18 at 17:37
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Magically created animals aren’t real animals.

In an interview, J.K. Rowling explains that she’d decided conjured objects wouldn’t last for very long.

Q: It seems that the wizards and witches at Hogwarts are able to conjure up many things, such as food for the feasts, chairs and sleeping bags. . .if this is so, why does the wizarding world need money? What are the limitations on the material objects you can conjure up? It seems unnecessary that the Weasleys would be in such need of money. . . (Jan Campbell)

A: Very good question (well done, Jan!!). There is legislation about what you can conjure and what you can't. Something that you conjure out of thin air will not last. This is a rule I set down for myself early on. I love these logical questions!
- South West News Service Interview with J.K. Rowling (July 8th, 2000)

Therefore, wizards wouldn’t be able to conjure new Snidgets because they’d disappear soon enough again. Wizards also don’t seem to be able to create life - no animals that were originally an object that was Transfigured into an animal are shown lasting long-term.

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    This seems reasonable, although wizards not being able to create life does make the Sorting Hat something of an 800lb gorilla in the room. Although I'm sure this has been brought up before somewhere. – Misha R Mar 27 '18 at 5:22
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    @MishaRosnach The Sorting Hat has the intelligence of the four Founders. The JKR writing on Pottermore about the Sorting Hat says it’s a very cleverly enchanted object: The Sorting Hat is one of the cleverest enchanted objects most witches and wizards will ever meet. It literally contains the intelligence of the four founders, can speak (through a rip near its brim) and is skilled at Legilimency, which enables it to look into the wearer’s head and divine his or her capabilities or mood. – Bellatrix Mar 27 '18 at 5:27
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    I suppose you could say it's artificial intelligence. I wonder how well it would do in a conversation unrelated to sorting. Could be it's actually unable to view things in non-sorting terms, in which case you might be able to claim that it's just a wizard version of a super computer with uploaded personalities, designed to perform a function, and not truly alive. Would probably suck to be fully alive and self aware and a hat, anyway. – Misha R Mar 27 '18 at 5:47
  • @MishaRosnach - then again, creating something that lives (thinks, interacts, decides) may be quite different from creating something that lives (mates, reproduces, increases/improves population). And perhaps even different again than creating something that lives (eats, bleeds, fights illnesses, can be (usefully) eaten, other messy bio-processes). – Megha Mar 27 '18 at 19:28
  • @Megha And I suppose, since many animals possess all those traits, it may be interesting to see if some very simple animals can or cannot be created. For instance, if the bar is at independent reproduction and mutation, that may tell us quite a bit about the nature of magic in the Harry Potter world and its limitations in all fields. – Misha R Mar 27 '18 at 22:49
5

Transfiguration gives something the APPEARANCE of something else, but it doesn't make it the actual thing.

So while you could transfigure a piece of wood into a Snidget, and it might look at act like a Snidget, it wouldn't have the magical qualities of a Snidget.

Just want to point out that in every case of transfiguration, that when they transfigured objects INTO animals, those animals were ALWAYS mundane.

A familiar or something that starts out magical might be transformed into an object, but you couldn't actually make a magical beast out of a desk. (Just a pig).

The rules Rowling has set forth regarding conjuration aren't the same as for transfiguration--with conjuration, you start out with nothing and conjure from thin air. With transfiguration you start out with something and make it into something else.

How permanent transfiguration is, is another consideration. We don't actually know if it is permanent. Dead bodies are hidden this way (Barty Crouch) transfigured into a log, and when Slughorn makes himself into a chair, I am going to assume that's not permanent because, gosh, hard to cast anything as a chair.

Because money and resources ARE an issue in the HP world, and such a thing would completely screw up an economy, I'd have to come to the conclusion that transfigurations aren't entirely permanent. So if you transfigured a shoe into a steak, there would be the possibility that either it would revert inside your stomach, wouldn't taste right, or might look like a steak but wouldn't provide all the nutrients. Otherwise, why not take dirt and transfigure that into anything from gold to tomatoes?

Plenty of things get transfigured, but I hadn't seen anything specifically mentioned as permanent in the books when things go as they should--hard to prove an absence of a thing... in St. Mungo's there are healers to reverse transfigurations, which sounds like cases in which things go wrong it could be more permanent.

  • This seems like a good answer, but could benefit from some citations – DCOPTimDowd Mar 27 '18 at 17:59

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