Born again: Why scientists are cloning black-footed ferrets

October 7, 2021

In February, a group of scientists announced a major breakthrough in conservation: They had cloned a black-footed ferret, an endangered species native to the American West, reports Vox.

Elizabeth Ann, the clone, was delivered via C-section on December 10, 2020; and, as of this writing, is still thriving thanks to the work of the Sausolito, California-based nonprofit Revive & Restore, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other partners. She is the first successful clone of an endangered species, and the culmination of years of cutting-edge work attempting to use cloning to rescue vulnerable populations.

The black-footed ferret is often the center of stories like this. Conservation specialist Kimberly Fraser told Vox that the rescue of the ferret some 40 years ago is “the greatest American story we have in conservation.”

Before September 26, 1981, the ferret—a 19- to 24-inch-long, 1.4- to 2.5-pound predator that mostly targets prairie dogs in America’s Western plains—was not just considered endangered; it was considered extinct.

Soon afterward, scientists found a small colony of 18 ferrets near a farm in Wyoming. They’ve been a conservation priority ever since.

Now, there’s a concerted effort by the Black-Footed Ferret Conservation Center in Wellington, Colorado—run by the federal Fish and Wildlife Service and supported by the government and some private partners—to reintroduce the species to the wild.

But, back in Sausolito, Elizabeth Ann will live out her days at the conservation center, soon to be joined by sisters and potential mates, The New York Times reports.

Researchers will monitor their health and watch them grow and scamper in the artificial burrows inside their cages. When the clones reach sexual maturity, they will breed, and then their offspring will be bred back with the wild black-footed ferrets.

It seems that the scientists have “ferreted out” a solution for a species that soon no longer will be endangered.

Research contact: @voxdotcom

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.