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Animal Information

Black-footed Ferrets Great Southwest

Black-footed Ferrets

Mustela nigripes

Biome: Great Southwest

Classification: Mammals

Biography: What happened to endanger the Black-footed Ferret?

Black-footed ferrets are one of the most endangered mammals in North America. How did this happen? Black-footed ferrets depend on prairie dogs for survival. Almost 90% of the ferret's diet is prairie dogs. They also rely on prairie dog burrows for shelter. As the prairie dog population declined due to deliberate poisoning, the ferrets began to disappear. Additionally, through habitat loss, the land occupied by the black-footed ferret was reduced from 20% of the western rangeland, from the Great Plains to Mexico, to just 2%. The black-footed ferrets were thought to be extinct in 1979 until in 1981 when a Wyoming ranch dog brought a ferret home to its owner. Researchers discovered the last 120 remaining ferrets in Meeteetse, Wyoming. Canine distemper and sylvatic plague infested the small population and left only 18 ferrets in the world. All 18 were brought into captivity to begin a breeding program to save these animals from extinction.

What steps are being taken to rebuild the population?

Today, approximately half of all black-footed ferrets born in captivity are released into the wild. The remaining ferrets enter breeding programs designed to guarantee their future success and genetic diversity. In 2009, records show nearly 1,000 black-footed ferrets living in 18 reintroduction sights through eight different states and a small area of Mexico. The best way to help these animals is to increase education about their past and future, to ensure that people will begin to understand their importance and help to protect their homes.

Black-footed Ferret Fun Facts
• The black-footed ferret is considered to be one of the most endangered mammals in the world.
• Black-footed ferrets are adapted for life in a grasslands habitat
• Notable characteristics of the black-footed ferrets have a black face mask, black feet, and a slender body perfect for going into burrows.
• The average litter size is 2 – 5 young.
• Black-footed ferrets are specialists and focus on prairie dogs, which make up the majority of their diet and provide their shelter.
• A family of four ferrets will consume an average of 763 prairie dogs per year.
• Smell is its most important sense for hunting prey underground in the dark.
• A black-footed ferret is secretive, nocturnal, and solitary.
• Black-footed ferrets are the only native species of ferrets native to North America. The domestic ferrets that you find in pet stores are of European origin and have been domesticated for hundreds of years.

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