Hope on the Prairie: The Black-Footed Ferret Returns to Colorado
by Matt Moorhead, TNC
In many respects, hope defines our work at The Nature Conservancy. In turn, our work fuels that hope.T ake, for instance, my recent experience helping reintroduce black-footed ferrets to their historic home on eastern Colorado’s prairie.
It’s likely that ferrets have been absent from eastern Colorado for more than 100 years.Entirely dependent on prairie dogs for survival, ferrets were largely the unintended victim of widespread prairie dog extermination campaigns and introduced diseases. By 1980, the species was believed to be extinct, lost before it had ever really been understood or appreciated.
But, in 1981, the first glimmer of hope faintly appeared in Meeteetse, Wyoming when a single remnant population was discovered by a rancher who reported it to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.Rampant disease forced their removal from the wild, but a captive breeding program began with the last 18 surviving individuals.
At six facilities around the country, biologists carefully breed the ferrets to maximize genetic diversity.Training programs put young ferrets through prairie dog hunting “boot camps;” if they learn to hunt, they’ll be eligible for release. The breeding and training programs have been successful; hundreds of ferrets are now available for release, awaiting appropriate habitats and the elusive welcome mat for an endangered species…
(read more: The Nature Conservancy)
photos: Steve Kettler, Chris Pague, and Matt Moorhead