Common Name: Black Footed Ferret, American Polecat, or Prairie Dog Hunter
Scientific Name: Mustela nigripes
The Black Footed Ferret is a endangered member of the weasel family that inhabits several western states such as Wyoming, South Dakota and Arizona. These populations were established by reintroduction efforts that took place from 1991-2008 after the ferret was considered extinct in the wild after the only know population in Meeteetse, Wyoming was declared extinct in 1987.
Black Footed Ferrets have long slender bodies and on average are 18-24 inches long including a 5-6 in tail. They will weigh up to 2 ½ lbs with the males being larger than the females. Most ferrets will typically have yellow/tan fur that will be nearly white on the forehead, muzzle and throat. They will also have a black face mask, black feet and black-tipped tail. There legs are short with front claws well adapted to digging in prairie soil.
Black Footed Ferrets primarily live in prairie dog towns located in the western states. These towns will typically be found in remnant mixed and short grass prairies that have not been heavily impacted by agriculture or ranching. During the 1900's there were eradication programs used to get rid of prairies dogs and their massive underground towns. These programs to eradicate the “pest” prairie dogs and their towns had a unintended side effect of decimating the dependent Black Footed Ferret populations. Since the ferrets rely almost exclusively of the prairie dogs and there towns for food/shelter without them they could not sustain themselves.
Behavior & Reproduction:
Ferrets are primarily nocturnal and fossorial(underground) animals that lead solitary lives with the exception of mating. They will mate in spring usually in March or April and will have a gestation period of around 42 days. The females will have a litter of around 3-4 kits and will raise them until the fall. The primary food of the ferret is the prairie dog which will make up around 90% of the ferrets diet. This dependence on prairie dogs makes them very susceptible to anything that affects prairie dog populations. The most common predators for ferrets are owls, coyotes, and badgers.
Currently there are national efforts spearheaded by the USFWS and the Black Footed Ferret Recovery Implementation Team to restore this endangered animal to its former range. They have successfully established self sustaining populations in South Dakota, Arizona and Wyoming with around 1000 individuals known to exist in the wild and another 280 ferrets live in captive breeding programs. There are a total of 19 reintroduction site across the country in which ferrets are placed by either introducing preconditioned captive bred ones or by transferring wild caught ones.
If you wish to aid in the conservation efforts of this species I would recommend visiting Black Footed Ferret.org for more information on how to do that.