The endangered black-footed
ferret (Mustela nigripes)
is the only ferret species native to North America. They are nocturnal animals, spending most of
their lives in underground burrows that they steal from their prey - prairie
dogs! As recently as 30 years ago, black-footed ferrets were believed to be extinct.
Fortunately, in 1986, a small group of 18 ferrets was discovered and
intensive management is helping this population recover. Today, there are
approximately 750 black footed ferrets in North America.
Historically, the greatest
threats affecting black-footed ferrets were human-related and included habitat
loss, poisoning by ranchers and loss of prey. The ferret’s sole prey species, the
black-tailed prairie dog, was considered a pest by ranchers. In the 19th
century, ranchers poisoned and killed over 1 million prairie dogs, effectively
eliminating the ferrets’ only source of food! Currently, ferrets are vulnerable to disease
epidemics such as the sylvatic plague and canine distemper since they live in
large groups (colonies) where diseases spread rapidly.
In 1986, the original 18
black-footed ferrets were brought into AZA-accredited zoos and the Black-Footed Ferret Species Survival Plan ® (SSP) Program carefully managed their reproduction. Since then, the Black-Footed Ferret SSP,
along with other AZA conservation partners including the US Fish and Wildlife Service has reintroduced over 700 ferrets into Arizona, Montana, South Dakota,
Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and Mexico with the hopes of reintroducing a total of
more than 1500!.
The AZA Conservation Endowment Fund, and one of its sub-funds, the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, has provided over $22,000 in support of the black-footed ferret
conservation projects including:
- $4,780 to university researchers for their work
on understanding the effects of the sylvatic plague on the health of black-footed
- $12,240 to university researchers to examine
plague transmission methods within prairie dog and ferret populations.
- $5,000 to the AZA Black-Footed Ferret SSP to implement
a black-footed ferret education program which creates instructional kits of
information cards, videos, and slideshows to help zoo educators stress the
importance of black-footed ferret conservation management.
Black-Footed Ferret Facts
||They are between 18 and 24
inches long with a 6 inch tail. They weigh
between 1 and 3 pounds.
||This slender animal has a
yellowish colored coat, pale belly, and a dark tail tip and black feet. The
muzzle, throat and forehead are white and there is a black mask around the eyes.
||Black-footed ferrets live
in short- and mid-grass prairies in North America.
||90% of the ferret’s diet is
prairie dogs, but they may also eat mice and other small rodents.
||Ferrets mate between March
and April and females give birth to a litter between 3 and 6 kits.