Yesterday the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released 30 Black-footed Ferrets (Mustela nigripes) at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Commerce City, CO, as part of a national reintroduction program. Once thought to be extinct, their population devastated by the loss of their favorite prey (prairie dogs) to poisoning and plague, and loss of habitat to development, a small population of ferrets was discovered in Wyoming in 1981. Since then, the ferrets have been involved in a captive breeding program to restore their numbers. One of the facilities involved in the breeding program is the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia, where I studied for a semester.
Black-footed Ferrets are small, weasel-like animals with a black bandit mask. Historically, they roamed from as far north as southern Canada to as far south as northern Mexico. Highly endangered, it’s estimated that only about 300 live in the wild. Those 300 are the result of previous reintroductions, like the 42 ferrets released at Soapstone Prairie Natural Area last year and the additional 17 released there just last week. The goal is to expand the ferret population to 3,000 individuals.
Because Black-footed Ferrets are mostly nocturnal and there are so few of them, it’s probably not likely you’ll see them when visiting the Arsenal, but that doesn’t mean I won’t try looking!