Wildlife biologists believe that black-footed ferrets released into the wilds of Colorado are thriving -- and breeding -- as the state tries to build a self-sustaining population of the mammal considered to be the rarest in North America.
GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. Wildlife biologists believe that black-footed ferrets released into the wilds of Colorado are thriving -- and breeding -- as the state tries to build a self-sustaining population of the mammal considered to be the rarest in North America.
About 170 ferrets have been released in Colorado, mostly on Bureau of Land Management land. Recent population counts in northwestern Colorado have convinced state biologists that the animals are reproducing.
"Seeing so many is very encouraging," said Pam Schnurr, a Colorado Division of Wildlife biologist. "And the fact that we saw so many means that there are a lot more out there."
One captured female was lactating, meaning she gave birth earlier this summer.
Black-footed ferrets were thought to be extinct until a dog dropped a dead ferret on a rancher's doorstep in northwestern Wyoming in 1981 and a small group was found in a prairie dog colony.
The last confirmed sighting of the animal in Colorado was in 1943.
Since the discovery in Wyoming, about 3,000 ferrets have been bred in captivity and released in various states.
Biologists estimate there are a total of 400 ferrets in the wild in Wyoming, South Dakota, Montana, Arizona and Colorado.
Environmentalists welcomed news of the Colorado program's progress, but said hurdles remain.
"We still have a lot of work to do, and we still have to work on recovering prairie dog populations so the ferrets can survive," said Jacob Smith, executive director for the Center for Native Ecosystems in Denver.
"The ferret has been listed under the Endangered Species Act for a long time, and this is a great example of that legislation preventing the extinction of another animal," Smith said.
Ferrets are nocturnal and prey on prairie dogs.
Source: Associated Press