Scientists have successfully cloned a wild black-footed ferret that died more than 30 years ago, according to a statement from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The young clone, born December 10, 2020 and named Elizabeth Ann, is the first ever native endangered species to be cloned in the United States, reports Douglas Main for National Geographic.
Once thought to be globally extinct, black-footed ferrets are one of North America’s rarest land animals, clinging to the hem of existence through painstaking captive breeding and reintroduction programs. With her unique DNA, Elizabeth Ann has the potential to be a source of much-needed genetic diversity to the inbred reintroduced population, which currently hovers between 400 and 500 individuals and remains severely threatened by disease.
The long, slender bodied Black-footed ferret once hunted prairie dogs across the grasslands of the American West. The ferrets so depend on prairie dogs as a food source that when farmers and ranchers began poisoning and exterminating the rodents in droves, the ferret population crashed. Black-footed ferrets became so scarce that they were assumed extinct by the mid-1970s, reports Sabrina Imbler for the New York Times. But in 1981, a ranch dog in Wyoming dropped what turned out to be a freshly killed black-footed ferret on its owner’s porch, revealing a tiny relict population and forestalling oblivion for the species.