One of North America’s rarest animals is now an example of how genetic cloning can assist other endangered species.
What We Know:
- The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWF) has now successfully cloned the first endangered species in North America. The animal, named Elizabeth Ann, is a black-footed ferret. Black-footed ferrets were first known to go extinct in 1979, but two years later, a small populous of black-footed ferrets were found in Wyoming on a farmer’s property. Officials claim that the entire black-footed ferret population is descendants of 7 individuals.
- Elizabeth Ann was cloned from the cells of another black-footed ferret named Willa, who lived over 30 years ago. Willa was one of the last known black-footed ferrets at the time so her genes and tissue sample were sent to the San Diego Zoo’s Global Frozen Zoo in 1988.
USFWF issued a permit for cloning research of an endangered species back in 2018. They proceeded to create embryos out of Willa’s preserved cells and implanted them into a domestic ferret surrogate. According to Nora Walsh, genetic cloning “provides a promising tool for continued efforts to conserve the black-footed ferret”. Walsh is a Director for USFWF, Mountain Prairie region. The wildlife service along with various other groups hopes to increase genetic diversity and disease resistance in more than just the black-footed ferret.
The most common threats to the black-footed ferret are habitat loss and disease. Without enough genetic diversity, a species becomes more susceptible to disease and genetic abnormalities. There don’t appear to be any major critics of preserving a species, which is the entire purpose for developing this research. It’s currently being proven that Elizabeth Ann could help address the genetic barriers a fair share of wildlife species face today. The chance for black-footed ferrets to become a self-sustaining species again increases each day with the research USFWF is doing.
- Endangered species are important because healthy ecosystems depend on balance and biodiversity. When a species goes extinct, it disrupts the natural flow of an ecosystem causing issues that begin small and compound into large ones.
For the time being, Elizabeth Ann won’t be released into the wild and will instead be cared for at the Black-Footed Ferret Conservation Center in Colorado.
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