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Black-Footed Ferret Becomes First North American Endangered Species to be Cloned

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Scientists have cloned an endangered United States animal for the first time, a black-footed ferret named Elizabeth Ann, in an achievement that boosts conservation efforts. The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) said Elizabeth Ann was created from the frozen cells of Willa, another black-footed ferret who lived more than 30 years ago. Elizabeth Ann was born to a surrogate mother in December. Scientists hope she will eventually be able to mate and help rescue the species from extinction.

Black-footed ferrets are one of North America’s most endangered species and were declared extinct in 1979. A Wyoming rancher discovered a small population living on his land two years later and that group formed the start of a breeding program. All black-footed ferrets alive today descend from just seven individuals, which present unique genetic challenges to save the species. Elizabeth Ann’s birth is a hopeful moment in an effort to boost the species’ numbers.

The first mammal to ever be cloned from the cells of an adult animal was Dolly the Sheep in 1996. Since then, cats, dogs, horses, and other mammals have been cloned. Black-footed ferrets were added to the list of cloned animals due to their extremely low population numbers. Specialists will care for and study Elizabeth Ann at an FWS facility in Colorado instead of releasing her into the wild. The team is working to produce more black-footed ferret clones in the upcoming months as part of their research efforts.