Elizabeth Ann is only 2 months old, but her extraordinary life is already making history This black-legged ferret is a clone of an animal that died over 30 years ago, and she is the first successful clone of any endangered species native to the US
The US Fish and Wildlife Service said Thursday the birth of Elizabeth Ann on December 10 was a “bold step forward” in efforts to increase genetic diversity and disease resistance in blacklegged ferrets , which were once thought extinct The species has been listed as endangered since 1967 and is the only ferret native to North America
“Although this research is preliminary, this is the first cloning of an endangered native species in North America, and it provides a promising tool to continue blacklegged ferret conservation efforts.” said Noreen Walsh, director of the US Mountain and Grassland Region of the Fish and Wildlife Service
The only black-legged ferrets alive today are the offspring of seven individuals, the Fish and Wildlife Service said, creating “unique genetic challenges” in recovery and conservation efforts A lack of genetic diversity can make a species more susceptible to disease and genetic abnormalities and can reduce the chances of successful reproduction
Willa, the ferret from which Elizabeth Ann was cloned, was one of the last wildlife to be found and captured in 1981, the Fish and Wildlife Service said She, among others found at that time, was placed in a captive breeding program in the Wyoming Game and Fish Department in an effort to save the species.
Willa has no living descendants, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service, but in 1988 her genes and tissue samples were preserved in the frozen zoo at the San Diego Zoo.
Habitat and prey loss are the greatest threats to this species of ferret, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service When in the wild in the US prairies, the species depends heavily on prairie dogs for its survival. In addition to prairie dogs which make up about 90% of their diet, blacklegged ferrets also rely on prairie dog burrows for shelter
Besides making Elizabeth Ann’s life possible, Willa’s cells have “three times as many unique variations as the living population” of blacklegged ferrets. If Elizabeth Ann is able to reproduce, it means that her offspring will add more diversity to the blacklegged ferret population, potentially making the species more resistant to current and future natural challenges
Walsh said maintaining and increasing wild populations of the species, as well as maintaining suitable habitat, is “critical” to the species’ full recovery.
“The success of genetic cloning does not diminish the importance of addressing habitat threats to the species or the Service’s emphasis on habitat conservation and management to recover black-footed ferrets, “said Walsh
Elizabeth Ann will not be released back into the wild Instead, she will be the subject of further research as scientists attempt to produce additional black-footed ferret clones
Ryan Phelan, executive director of wildlife conservation organization Revive and Restore, which has partnered with the Fish and Wildlife Service, said Willa’s genomics “revealed the genetic value Willa could bring to his kind”
“It was a commitment to seeing this species survive that led to Elizabeth Ann’s successful birth. Seeing her now in full swing heralds a new era for her species and for conservation dependent species around the world “Said Phelan” It is a victory for biodiversity and for genetic rescue “
Ferret, Black-footed ferret, Endangered species, Cloning
Ebene News – US – 2-month-old ferret clone marks milestone in animal conservation