Demand Protection for the Black - Footed Ferret
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ABOUT THE BLACK-FOOTED FERRET
The black-footed ferret could also be called the black-eyed ferret because of the distinctive “stick-em up” mask that adorns its face. The tan ferrets also have black markings on their feet, legs, and tail tip.
This animal's long slender body, like that of a weasel, enables it to crawl in and out of the holes and dwellings of its primary prey—the prairie dog.
Though black-footed ferrets sometimes eat squirrels, mice, and other rodents, prairie dogs are essential to their survival, making up the majority of the ferret diet. These voracious predators hunt them in their own burrows, and take shelter in abandoned prairie dog dwellings.
Many prairie dog towns became ghost towns as populations underwent a 20th century decline. Farmers and ranchers (with government assistance) eliminated many prairie dogs because their underground complexes are destructive to fields. In the process, the black-footed ferret was nearly wiped out. In 1987, 18 animals were captured in the wild to begin a captive breeding program, which has since reintroduced ferrets into promising western habitats.
Reintroduction to the Wild
Ferret reintroduction efforts have been mixed. Populations need viable prairie dog towns to survive, but they also face threats from predators such as golden eagles, owls, and coyotes. Reintroduced animals lack some survival skills so their mortality rate is high. Diseases are another major threat to prairie dog towns and to the black-footed ferrets that depend upon them.
These solitary animals live alone, and in May and June females give birth to litters of one to six kits that they raise alone. The young are able to survive on their own by fall.
Among the rarest mammals not only in the United States, but North America as well, is the black-footed ferret. A distinct species exceedingly rare throughout its range, this animal was feared extinct until a small population was discovered in 1981 in Meeteetse, Wyo. Following a disease outbreak, the remaining 18 animals were placed in a captive breeding program.
From these lone survivors, more than 2,700 offspring have been re-introduced into the wild. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that there are over 650 individuals surviving in the wild, with a goal of 1,500 breeding adult ferrets in 10 locations to allow for down-listing from “endangered” to “threatened.”
So far, re-introductions have taken place in 12 locations with the latest occurring in Kansas in December 2007.
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