With each passing year, our once populous and diverse planet is slowly losing its inhabitants. More and more plant and animal species are plunging into extinction and the endangered list is only getting longer. However, recently, a black-footed ferret was successfully cloned, opening up new doors for preventing the extinction of endangered wildlife.
In the 90s, scientists were able to successfully clone a sheep named Dolly. News spread quickly and the public was incredibly surprised by the extent of technology’s power. Many were expecting this discovery to progress and eventually allow for the ability to clone humans. However, since then there has been no new revelations in cloning technology. That is, until very recently. A black-footed ferret that died more than 30 years ago was successfully cloned, marking a first for native endangered species in the U.S. The black-footed ferret is the only native ferret species of North America. They were once incredibly abundant in Western America, but suffered greatly when farmers and ranchers depleted their only source of prey. In the 70s, the species was thought to be extinct until 11 years later when a dog discovered 18 survivors in Wyoming.
The remaining ferrets were taken to a captive-breeding program in Colorado and have since been welcomed into 8 states throughout the Great Plains. Only 7 of the wild ferrets bred but still managed to increase the population to around 400 or 500. The clone, Elizabeth Ann, was created from the preserved cells of a ferret named Willa, who died in the mid-80s. After her death, her cells were stored at the Frozen Zoo, a San Diego Zoo Global program that collects samples from rare and endangered species worldwide. Scientists hope to breed Elizabeth Ann to create more genetic diversity throughout the nation’s ferret population.
This newly discovered phenomenon is reintroducing hope for the lives of endangered, and even extinct, species. The same methods used to clone Willa can be applied to other suffering wildlife. Such a discovery further solidifies the importance of preserving cells for future research. Shawn Walker, the chief scientific officer with ViaGen Pets and Equine, shares his joy following the successful cloning, “We’re pretty excited – more along the lines of ecstatic.”