Ferret makes debut as 1st clone of US endangered species

Animals and Pets

Elizabeth Ann, the first cloned black-footed ferret and first-ever cloned U.S. endangered species, at 68-days old. (Credit: USFWS National Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center.)

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (NEXSTAR) — The first U.S. endangered species has been cloned — a black-footed ferret duplicated from the genes of an animal that died more than 30 years ago.

Elizabeth Ann was born in a Colorado facility on Dec. 10, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Thursday.

The slinky predator is a genetic copy of a ferret named Willa, who died in 1988 and whose remains were frozen in the early days of DNA technology.

“Although this research is preliminary, it is the first cloning of a native endangered species in North America, and it provides a promising tool for continued efforts to conserve the black-footed ferret,” Noreen Walsh, director of the Service’s Mountain-Prairie Region, said in a statement.

The technique holds promise for boosting endangered species including a cloned Mongolian wild horse born at a Texas facility last summer.

Viagen, a company that clones horses and pet dogs and cats, cloned both animals.

Once thought to be extinct, black-footed ferrets, also known as American polecats or prairie dog hunters, were brought back from the brink of vanishing after a Wyoming rancher discovered a small population on his land in 1981. All black-footed ferrets are descended from seven individuals, causing unique genetic challenges to recovery efforts, and scientists hope cloning can increase genetic diversity and disease resistance.

“Maintaining and increasing wild populations and suitable habitat continues to be essential for black-footed ferret recovery and will remain a priority for the Service,” Walsh said. “Successful genetic cloning does not diminish the importance of addressing habitat-based threats to the species or the Service’s focus on addressing habitat conservation and management to recover black-footed ferrets.”

The black-footed ferret recovery effort is the result of a partnership among the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and species recovery partners and scientists at Revive & Restore, ViaGen Pets & Equine, San Diego Zoo Global, and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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