Colorado home to continent’s first cloned endangered species

Meet Elizabeth Ann,  the first-ever cloned black-footed ferret, created from the frozen cells...
Meet Elizabeth Ann, the first-ever cloned black-footed ferret, created from the frozen cells of a ferret that died more than 30 years ago.(U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Published: Feb. 28, 2021 at 9:33 PM MST
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DENVER, Colo. (KKTV) - The United States used to be home to thousands of black-footed ferrets but that is no longer the case.

The species was thought to be extinct until 1981, when some were found in Wyoming. Since then, conservation efforts have been in full swing as scientists try to save the species and Colorado is playing a role in that.

Elizabeth Anne is a black-footed ferret kit. She is very cute, but equally important. Some are even referring to her as a scientific breakthrough.

She may only be 75 days old, but she is decades in the making.

“She was an original animal from the last wild population found in Wyoming in the 1980s,” said Pete Gober, a black-footed ferret recovery coordinator.

This is the first cloning of a native endangered species in North America. Gober told 11 News it all started when tissue from her body was stored frozen at the San Diego Zoo. DNA was then taken from that tissue, and put into a domestic ferret’s egg.

“Then that egg was implanted in the surrogate animal,” he continued.

That’s where Colorado comes in.

“That animal was transported halfway across the country, back to Colorado to be born at the National Black-Footed Ferret Conservation Center,” he said.

Right now, all 300 black-footed ferrets are descended from only seven individuals. That causes some genetic challenges during breeding. Elizabeth Anne adds a valuable eighth genetic line to that equation and could pave the way for other animals on the brink of extinction.

“Working with cloning technology with endangered species is just another step in many steps to recovering species,” Gober said.

He adds not all endangered species have a habitat to go back to, but there’s still a home for ferrets here in our region.

“So this is a pretty cool and endangered species in that all the partners can look forward to doing their part of the job and actually getting the animals back in the wild, because there’s a place for them to go.”

Elizabeth Anne will not be released in the wild. Right now scientists are studying her and others carefully so when they do go back into the world -- there won’t be any unintended consequences.

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