CHEYENNE (AP) — Scientists have cloned the first US endangered species, a black-footed ferret duplicated from the genes of an animal that died over 30 years ago.
The slinky predator named Elizabeth Ann, born December 10 and announced Thursday, is cute as a button. But watch out — unlike the domestic ferret foster mom who carried her into the world, she’s wild at heart.
“You might have been handling a black-footed ferret kit and then they try to take your finger off the next day,” US Fish and Wildlife Service black-footed ferret recovery coordinator Pete Gober said Thursday.
“She’s holding her own.”
Elizabeth Ann was born and is being raised at a Fish and Wildlife Service black-footed ferret breeding facility in Fort Collins, Colorado.
She’s a genetic copy of a ferret named Willa who died in 1988 and whose remains were frozen in the early days of DNA technology.
Cloning eventually could bring back extinct species such as the passenger pigeon.
For now, the technique holds promise for helping endangered species including a Mongolian wild horse that was cloned and last summer born at a Texas facility.
“Biotechnology and genomic data can really make a difference on the ground with conservation efforts,” said Ben Novak, lead scientist with Revive & Restore, a biotechnology-focused conservation nonprofit that coordinated the ferret and horse clonings.
Black-footed ferrets are a type of weasel easily recognized by dark eye markings resembling a robber’s mask.
Charismatic and nocturnal, they feed exclusively on prairie dogs while living in the midst of the rodents’ sometimes vast burrow colonies.