When you hear about an animal becoming extinct, most assume that the species is gone for good, never to be seen again. That’s not the case for North America’s rarest mammal, the black-footed ferret. 35 years after being declared extinct, the adorable critter is re-emerging in the western U.S. and Canadian prairie land.
When you hear about an animal becoming extinct, most assume that the species is gone for good, never to be seen again.
That’s not the case for North America’s rarest mammal, the black-footed ferret. 35 years after being declared extinct, the adorable critter is re-emerging in the western U.S. and Canadian prairie land.
How did this turn-of-events come to pass?
The amazing black-footed ferret comeback started with a dog, actually.
On September 26, 1981, the black-footed ferret was rediscovered near Meeteetse, Wyo., in the jaws of a ranch dog. Until then, the species was considered extinct.
The dog delivered the dead ferret home to his owners. They brought the carcass to a local taxidermist who identified it as a black-footed ferret and called the wildlife authorities, who then surveyed the area and discovered a small population of ferrets.
And thus, the Black-Footed Ferret Recovery Program (BFFRIT), a multi-agency conservation effort led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was born.
The ferrets from Meeteetse were brought to a captive breeding facility in southeast Wyoming, where the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began a captive breeding program, which has led to the endangered black-footed ferret’s comeback.
Since 1991 ferrets have been reintroduced back into the wild, beginning in Wyoming, and since expanding to sites in Montana, South Dakota, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Kansas, Canada and Mexico.
Threats to Reintroduction
The black-footed ferret became extinct for a reason. Two main reasons, actually: habitat loss and disease.
So it makes sense that today, the two biggest threats to black-footed ferret population recovery are sylvatic plague, which is a form of bubonic plague, and lack of suitable reintroduction sites. Since the introduction of antibiotics and improved hygiene, bubonic plague no longer poses a serious threat to humans, but for black-footed ferrets, the plague is 100 percent fatal.
The Black-footed Ferret Recovery Program is working to tackle both threats. The group, which includes representatives from federal, state and tribal governments, zoos, private landowners and nonprofits, is working on ways to boost black-footed ferret recovery, including an oral vaccine to address plague and an incentive package for landowners.
There are other threats as well, like farmers poisoning pesky groundhogs, which make up 90 percent of a ferret’s diet. (They usually suffocate them in their sleep, if it makes you feel any better.)
Continue reading at ENN affiliate, Care2.
Ferret image via Shutterstock.