Black-footed Ferret Clone

Nathan Kim

On February 18, 2021, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a statement revealing that a black-footed ferret had been successfully cloned. The only North American native ferrets were thought to be extinct until 1981, when a rancher found a small population living on his property. These ferrets were then taken to an area where they could breed and keep the species alive.

Because of the small population, new blood is dwindling and diversity is weak. The small diversity of the ferrets means that they will be more prone to catch diseases and genetic abnormalities. The ferrets are not likely to survive as a species much longer without a fresh source of genes. With this problem in mind, scientists have been trying to find a way to keep the species alive, and with new technology, cloning has been brought to the table. The team of scientists used frozen tissue of a black-footed ferret named Willa that died back in the 1980s. They then used domestic ferrets as a donor egg and as a surrogate mother. This process was very reminiscent of the famous Dolly the Sheep. This project began in 2013, but only recently finished on December 10, 2020.

The new ferret was named Elizabeth Anne, and the scientists plan to raise her, and then if possible mate her with other ferrets, breeding new diversity. She is not going to be released to the wild and will instead live inside the Colorado facility where she was born so that she can be monitored and researched. But the scientists are not oblivious to other threats as addressed in a statement from Noreen Walsh, the Director of the Service’s Mountain-Prairie Region, “Successful genetic cloning does not diminish the importance of addressing habitat-based threats to the species or the Service’s focus on addressing habitat conservation and management to recover black-footed ferrets.”

Even though this was the United States’ first attempt at cloning to save endangered animals, that doesn’t mean this practice is uncommon. Many other countries have attempted such tactics with failures and successes. Another thing to keep in mind is that cloned animals have a significantly shorter lifespan. So when the newly cloned ferret will mate with other black-footed ferrets, will the altered genetic material affect offspring? There have been many cloned pets that live for only around eight years. There are also many clones with abnormalities. Cloning is a very difficult subject and is very tedious. One wrong move and a subject could be gone to waste. This is why we can expect very few clones to come out in later years. Cloning sounds like an easy way to solve the problem at hand, but it could be more of a predicament than a solution. Even though all this could become an issue down the line, this event is a big leap in saving endangered animals in the United States. It gives us more opportunities to at least attempt to save several endangered animals.