AZA News Releases

AZA-Accredited Facilities Assist in Historic Reintroduction of Black-footed Ferrets to Natural Range

Image of a black-footed ferret from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceBlack-footed Ferret, National Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center (Ryan Hagerty/USFWS)

Silver Spring, Maryland (August 3, 2016) – Thirty-five years after the species was rediscovered after having been believed to be extinct, a historic reintroduction has taken place, marking another positive step toward recovery for the black-footed ferret, one of North America’s most endangered mammals.

On July 26, 2016, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the owners of two ranches released 35 black-footed ferrets to honor the special anniversary. The release occurred near Meeteetse, Wyoming on the Lazy BV and Pitchfork Ranches, where the species was first rediscovered, and was also supported in part by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and four of its accredited facilities: the Phoenix Zoo, Louisville Zoo, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, and Santa Barbara Zoo. The zoological facilities contributed funds to support the necessary dusting of the prairie dog colonies with the insecticide deltamethrin (Delta Dust) to address the presence of sylvatic plague, a flea-borne disease that has decimated the prairie dog population. Black-footed ferrets almost exclusively eat prairie dogs and rely on prairie dog burrows for shelter, safety, and a place to raise young. Each ferret requires 50-100 acres of prairie dog colonies to survive.

“This is a historic moment for the recovery of this species. It is an honor for the men and women who serve the public and wildlife in Wyoming to be a part of this effort. This is a biologically sound and historical place to host a reintroduction and we thank the ranch owners for their commitment to recovery of black-footed ferrets. The decades of hard work from Game and Fish and our numerous partners show in these recovery efforts,” said Scott Talbott, director of Game and Fish.

“Bringing the black-footed ferret home to Meeteetse is an extraordinary achievement, which is a source of pride not only for the citizens of Wyoming, but for conservationists everywhere. Countless partners have worked together for decades to ensure the survival of this remarkable species, and their diligent efforts are just as notable as the ferret’s return. Last week was a special occasion for those partners, for all of us at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and for anyone who values having wild creatures on the landscape where they belong,” said Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Beginning in 1986, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service founded a successful captive breeding program for black-footed ferrets. Breeding under managed care continues today, and the ferrets have been released throughout western North America.

Black-footed ferrets currently reside at five AZA-accredited facilities: the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Louisville Zoo, Phoenix Zoo, Smithsonian National Zoological Park, and Toronto Zoo. Additionally, between 2011 and 2015, 22 AZA-accredited facilities contributed approximately $5.8 million to a 32 field conservation projects benefitting black-footed ferrets. These projects primarily focus on reintroduction, monitoring of reintroduced ferrets, and ecological studies focused on strengthening long-term sustainability of the population, such as those investigating the species’ relationship with its prey, the black-tailed prairie dog.

“Conservation is a top priority of facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), and species recovery is often complex and requires much collaboration. Whether our member facilities are rearing the ferrets or assisting in other ways, we are proud to work with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other conservation partners so that we can all do our part in protecting the future of this important endangered species,” said AZA interim President and CEO Kris Vehrs.

The release of black-footed ferrets back onto private land is possible due to the 10(j) rule that creates special provisions to give landowners protection if a ferret is killed during legal activities. Last year, a statewide rule was put in place to give landowners assurance they will be able to manage their properties without the concern they might break the law by inadvertently harming a ferret. Implementation of the 10(j) rule ensures the concerns of private landowners and landowners adjacent to reintroduction areas are addressed comprehensively.

The national Black-footed Ferret Recovery Implementation Team has released ferrets at 24 sites across North America. Current ferret numbers in the wild are encouraging, but more reintroduction sites are needed to fully recover the species so that it no longer requires federal protection.

About Wyoming Game and Fish Department

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department manages and conserves more than 800 species of fish and wildlife across Wyoming. For nearly 120 years, we’ve carried out our mission to conserve wildlife and serve people. Through these efforts, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department ensures the public continues to enjoy Wyoming’s vast fish and wildlife resource through hunting, fishing, trapping, wildlife watching and other forms of outdoor recreation. Hunters, anglers and wildlife watchers contribute over a billion dollars to Wyoming’s economy each year.

About U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit

About AZA

Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, animal welfare, education, science, and recreation. AZA is the accrediting body for the top zoos and aquariums in the United States and eight other countries. Look for the AZA accreditation logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. The AZA is a leader in saving species and your link to helping animals all over the world. To learn more, visit

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