Black-footed Ferrets: Back in Saskatchewan's Grasslands National Park

Black-footed Ferrets: Back in Saskatchewan's Grasslands National Park

The black-footed Ferret, or Mustela nigripes for you

Latinists, is a small carnivorous North American prairie animal that lives in complicated social clusters and burrow complexes. It is the only ferret native to North America. Ferrets are kin to weasels, mink, polecats, martens, and even otters, and badgers. Te Black-footed ferret should not be confused with the domesticated ferret, popular as a pet and not at all in danger—and not native to North America. The black-footed ferret is native, and is the rarest mammal in North America. Mustela nigripes was declared extinct in Canada in 1934, and endangered in the U. S. in 1967.

The central reason for their demise is that the black-footed ferret primarily eats prairie dogs. As the prairies were used for cattle, ranchers attempted to eradicate the prairie dog as a danger to their herds. A black-footed ferret family of four will typically consume about 763 prairie dogs per year. As the numbers of prairie dogs decreased, so did the numbers of their natural predator, the black-footed ferret. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there are about several breeding colonies in captivity in the U.S. There are various efforts at returning them to their natural habitats. Most of the extant black-footed ferrets today are descendants of a tiny colony discovered in Wyoming in 1981. The black-footed ferret had previously been thought extinct. Breeding colonies were subsequently established at a number of American and Canadian zoos and research areas, particularly the Toronto Zoo and the Calgary Zoo.

Canada too has been active in protecting, breeding, and then repatriating the black-footed ferret. Last Friday, naturalists, and wildlife biologists gathered at Canada's Grasslands National Park, in Saskatchewan in order to return 34 black-footed ferrets to their natural habitat. You can read more about it here.

The best source of information about the wide range of programs and efforts to restore the black-footed ferret to its natural habitat is the Black-footed Ferret Recovery Implementation Team Web site. The organization was created in 1996 to coordinate efforts from a number of U.S. agencies and organizations, with a shared goal to create 10 or more geographically disparate wild black-footed ferret populations. Of course, even then, the black-ferret will still be in "threatened" versus its current "endangered" status, but it's a start—and the news from Canada is promising. I

An organization called Prairie Wildlife has an "adopt a ferret" program. For a small donation ($25.00) you can "adopt" a black-footed ferret. The monies go directly to support black-footed ferret recovery efforts.