Biologists Breed Endangered Ferret from Decades-Old Sperm

posted: 08/17/15
by: Danny Clemens
Black-footed ferret
Kathryn Scott Osler / Contributor

Conservationists are using 20-year-old sperm samples to revitalize the endangered black-footed ferret in the United States.

Biologists from the Lincoln Zoo, Smithsonian and Fish & Wildlife Service have turned to the cryopreserved sperm in order to preserve genetic diversity within the recovering ferret population. The sample comes from a sire named Scarface, who was reportedly one of less than 20 ferrets left in the world in the 1980s.

The black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) was declared extinct in the wild in 1987; thanks to a USFWS-sponsored captive breeding program, ferret numbers have slowly rebounded in recent years. There are now more than 1,000 of the creatures throughout the United States.

Our Favorite Ferrets in Photos

"Our findings show how important it is to bank sperm and other biomaterials from rare and endangered animal species over time," Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute senior curator Paul Marinari explains in a news release. "These 'snapshots' of biodiversity could be invaluable to future animal conservation efforts, which is why we must make every effort to collect, store and study these materials now."

Presently, the USFWS' Black-Footed Ferret Recovery Program consists of approximately 300 breeding ferrets.

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