Experts Say Black-Footed Ferrets Reproducing
DENVER In an encouraging sign for the black-footed ferret, wildlife officials say the animal is apparently reproducing across the West after nearing extinction less than three decades ago.
A female ferret found in northwest Colorado last fall was identified as born in the wild because she did not have one of the embedded microchips given to animals released as part of reintroduction program, the Colorado Division of Wildlife said Monday.
Once abundant across the West, ferrets began disappearing at the turn of the last century because of disease and prairie dog eradication efforts. Wildlife experts thought the ferret was extinct until a small group was found in northern Wyoming in 1981.
To save the species, the last 18 ferrets were trapped between 1985 and 1987. More than 2,000 captive-born ferrets have been released in six Western states. That includes 186 in Colorado's Wolf Creek Management Area, which covers 43,000 acres in Rio Blanco and Moffat counties and was the site of last fall's discovery.
Ferrets in part of the Coyote Basin study area, which is primarily in Utah, also have reproduced in the wild, said Pam Schnurr, a wildlife biologist with the Colorado agency in Grand Junction. She also said captive-born ferrets have begun to reproduce in five other Western states where they have been reintroduced.
"Releasing ferrets is one thing, but getting the population to produce young is the first critical step in creating a self-sustaining, black-footed ferret population," Schnurr said.
The animals are difficult to track because they are nocturnal and rarely come above ground. Biologists monitor ferret populations each fall by using spotlights to locate them, according to the DOW.
Last fall, federal biologists said they think black-footed ferrets released in near the South Dakota Badlands are thriving, even though plague has been discovered in some of the area's prairie dog populations.
Source: Associated Press