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…
Black-footed ferrets from Cheyenne Mountain Zoo begin life in the Colorado wild
by Matt Steiner
A tiny black-footed male ferret with a curious look and a twitching nose emerged from his carrier shortly after 11 a.m. Wednesday at a ranch west of Pueblo.
The ferret, who was born and raised at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, hesitantly looked around at the wide, dusty expanse that was about to become his new home. He finally decided the coast was clear and dived into the prairie dog hole just inches from the carrier.
"There he goes," someone chimed in from a group of zoo employees and volunteers that gathered around the carrier to see the endangered animal introduced into the wild.
The ferret was among about 35 ferrets getting a chance for new life Wednesday at Walker Ranch near U.S. 50 outside of Pueblo. More than 30 people, including zoo officials, media members, state parks and wildlife officials and U.S. Fish and Wildlife conservationists, joined the Walker family for the historic event…
Endangered Black-footed Ferrets Enjoying a Bit of Freedom
Two of this year’s females are out in the pre-conditioning pens, before eventual release into the wild. Mom is with them to teach them how to be ferrets in the wild. She is an expert in killing prairie dogs and they will learn from her.
Biologists at the National BFF Conservation Center have been working hard to breed and release these critically endangered animals.
They were once thought to be extinct, then on Sept. 26th, 1981, a Wyoming ranch dog, named Shep, killed a BFF! Meeteetse Rancher John Hogg and family took the carcass to town and history was made by turning the conservation world upside down! BFFs were not extinct! Since 1985, many partners from State, Federal, Tribal and NGO agencies have participated in recovery efforts bringing ferrets back from the brink of extinction!
While many people may view zoos first and foremost as attractions, these institutions have a long history of supporting and instigating conservation work, including saving species from extinction that have vanished from their wild habitat. But such efforts require not just dedication and patience, but herculean organizational efforts. Enter, the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA), which works with zoos and aquariums to set up conservation programs and track endangered species in captivity.
“Most of the major international conservation organizations have moved away from species conservation in recent years, now focusing on issues such as poverty alleviation, global change, ecosystem services, etc. It is the role of zoos and aquariums to keep alive the flame of species conservation!” Markus Gusset, Conservation Officer with WAZA, told mongabay.com in a recent interview.
Gusset says that zoos and aquariums should be conservation centers first and businesses second. He points to a long history of zoos in saving species that have gone extinct in the wild, including five mammals and one bird that would not be around today without the protective efforts of modern zoos…
(images: T - Red Wolf, Seth Bynum /Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium; 2L - Przwalski’s Horse, Petra Kaczensky/International Takhi Group; 2R - California Condor, Mike Wallace/San Diego Zoo Global; 3 - Black-footed Ferret, USFWS; BL - Arabian Oryx, Tim Wacher; BR - European Bison, Mieczysław Hlawiczka)
Black-footed ferrets were considered extinct until a small population was discovered in Wyoming in 1981. This prompted the establishment of the Black-Footed Ferret Recovery Program, which bred these masked meat-eating mammals in captivity. In 1991 they began being reintroduced to the prairies of South Dakota, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Utah, Mexico, and Canada.
The success stories of the bald eagle, American alligator, and blue poison frog give species on the brink of extinction something to live for. LiveScience takes a close look at the most impressive comeback kids…
This is why we do what we do - to put endangered black-footed ferrets back on the prairie!
The Northern Cheyenne Native Prairie Conservation Program implemented a Wildlife Conservation Incentive Program on tribal lands. The Tribe and members agreed not to poison, shoot or irradiate prairie dogs, which has obvious benefits for BFFs who rely exclusively on prairie dogs for sustenance.
The National Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center is committed to the recovery of the endangered black-footed ferret.
The USFWS’ BFFCC, located in northern Colorado, houses 60-70% of all captive black-footed ferrets (BFF). The FCC serves as the hub for everything related to BFF recovery. Together with our partners we produce as many BFF kits as possible for reintroduction efforts & to maintain the captive population while minimizing the loss of genetic diversity.
For the official source of information regarding our work with the black-footed ferret visit…
Our young ferret is in a burrow within a burrow!! Some BFFs like to have the plastic tubing placed on top of the burrow entrance. Most BFFs turn around and go down under. A few linger above. Eventually all disappear and begin their life in the wild. Shadows stretch across the prairie as night approaches.
To find out more about this project to release the critically endangered Black footed Ferret back into the wild, check this out…
Snowy Fall Days at the Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center
Two nights ago we had a light dusting. BFFs do not seem to mind the snow, they just stay underground where the ambient temperature in their burrows is around 55 deg F, But much warmer than the frigid winter temperatures above their burrows!!
This kit below is waiting for a meal.
Find out more about Black-footed Ferret Conservation efforts!
The black-footed ferret’s dinner is simple. Over 90% of the ferret’s diet is prairie dog. In the wild, the ferret spends its entire life in a prairie dog colony. The dog excavates the burrows where the ferret finds shelter from weather and predators. Ferrets have their kits deep in the burrows. And ferrets eat the prairie dogs. That’s like having a grocery store in the basement of your home!!
It is vital for ferrets to learn to kill prairie dogs for their survival before they are released in the wild.