A huge milestone has been made in animal conservation efforts, as the first of any native, endangered animal species in North America was successfully cloned in Colorado.

A year-long collaboration, known as The Black-Footed Ferret Project, produced a healthy clone of a female Black-footed ferret, giving much hope for a species that's currently on the brink of extinction.

Born on December 10, 2020, Elizabeth Ann is a genetic copy of Willa, a wild ferret from Wyoming, that died in 1988. Willa had been living in a captive breeding program, and when she passed away, conservationists at the Wyoming Department of Game and Fish sent some of her tissue samples to the San Diego Zoo Global’s Frozen Zoo. Those cells were cryopreserved for three decades until combined efforts from the US Fish and Wildlife service, the non-profit Revive & Restore, ViaGen Pets & Equine, the San Diego Zoo Global and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums allowed for the cloning process to take place.

Photo: Revive & Restore

Elizabeth Ann lives at the National Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center near Fort Collins. According to Revive & Restore, siblings are on the way - also clones of Willa. They hope to breed Elizabeth Ann during her time at the center, too.

There are only approximately 350 Black-footed ferrets remaining in the wild. Besides helping to rescue the dwindling population, cloning Black-footed ferrets could potentially bring needed genetic diversity to the species.

The success of The Black-Footed Ferret Project helps the wider conservation efforts of using cloning to save animals that are severely endangered or facing extinction.

Animals of the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo