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The Mountain-Prairie Region


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228


April 7, 2006

Contact:  Mike Lockhart or Paul Marinari, 970-897-2730
Barb Perkins, 303-236-4588

 NOTE TO EDITORS:  Due to animal sensitivity and disease risks to breeding endangered ferrets, we are currently unable to accommodate media visits to the breeding facility.  However, upon request, we have b-roll and high-resolution digital photos available of black-footed ferrets and the National Black-footed Ferret Conservation facility. 


Endangered Black-footed Ferrets Adjusting to New Colorado Facility

- Litter of Four born on March 26 - 

               On March 26, the first litter of black-footed ferrets was born at the new National Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center, located north of Ft. Collins, Colorado.  Biologists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hope this is the first of many more litters to follow this spring.  The four kits (1 male, 3 female) are part of the Service’s captive breeding program for the endangered black-footed ferret. 

              The National Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center is home to 154 black-footed ferrets, which is over half of the entire North American captive population.  The animals were moved last fall from a former breeding facility west of Wheatland, Wyoming.  Other breeding efforts are being conducted at the National Zoo, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Louisville Zoo, Toronto Zoo, and the Phoenix Zoo.   

By the late 1970s, biologists feared that the black-footed ferret was extinct.  The rediscovery of a small population near Meeteetse, Wyoming, in 1981 was widely heralded as a second chance to save the species.  Starting in 1985, the Meeteetse population declined precipitously when disease decimated both the ferrets and their prey base.  Captive breeding efforts were started in 1986 following the capture of only 18 surviving ferrets.  

 Over 5,100 kits have been produced in captivity since 1987.  Since 1991, over 2,200 kits have been reintroduced within the black-footed ferrets’ historical range at sites in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming, and northern Chihuahua, Mexico.   

Black-footed ferrets are found almost exclusively in prairie dog colonies.  Prairie dogs are their principal prey, and ferrets live and rear their young in prairie dog burrows.  Black-footed ferrets have one litter each year, with an average of about three kits per litter.  In the wild, kits do not come above ground until they are two-three months old.  Mothers and young remain together until early fall.  By October, the kits are able to take care of themselves. 

To date, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates there are over 550 individuals in the wild, all originating from captive stock.  Ferrets have successfully reproduced in the wild at all sites where they have been reintroduced.  Some reintroduced populations are thriving while others have been subsequently impacted by disease, drought, and other factors affecting their habitat.  

Ferrets were once found throughout the Great Plains, from northern Mexico to southern Saskatchewan, Canada.  Their range extended from the Rocky Mountains east through the Dakotas and south through Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.  The national goal to improve the status of the species from endangered to threatened is to establish 10 free-ranging populations of ferrets, spread over the widest possible area within their former range.  To meet this goal, it is hoped that 1,500 breeding adult ferrets will be established in the wild by the year 2010. 

This year is the 25th anniversary of the rediscovery of black-footed ferrets at Meeteetsee, Wyoming, and the beginning of national recovery efforts.  Many state and federal agencies, Indian tribes, conservation organizations, and private partners have contributed to the growing success of the black-footed ferret program.  More information on black-footed ferret recovery can be found at the recovery implementation team’s official website: 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 545 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign and Native American tribal governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies. 


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