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Black-footed Ferrets

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The Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge is home to a population of North America’s most endangered mammal, the black-footed ferret. The Refuge provides ideal habitat and prey base with its abundant prairie dog population and expanse of shortgrass prairie habitat.

  • The Ferret House

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    Nestled behind the Refuge Visitor Center is a unique exhibit featuring two “retired’ black-footed ferrets. The Ferret House was opened in October 2015 and features an indoor and outdoor habitat with over 80 feet of tunnels simulating a prairie dog town. The roof of the Ferret House offers viewing scopes to observe prairie life from afar, from prairie dogs to bison! Bilingual signage throughout helps tell the story of these night-time prairie bandits.

    The indoor exhibit is open Wednesday-Sunday; 9:00 am-4:00 pm and the outdoor exhibit is open seven days a week from sunrise to sunset.

  • Inside the Ferret House

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    The indoor enclosure of the ferret exhibit features a viewing area where visitors can observe black-footed ferrets up close. It consists of three boxes the ferrets can choose between; a top and bottom viewing box and a hidden hide box which provides seclusion when the ferrets want a little quiet time.

    Inside you will also find interpretive panels, a diorama, and murals depicting life on the prairie. This exhibit is open Wednesday-Sunday; 9:00 am-4:00 pm.

  • The Outdoor Enclosure

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    Unlike other black-footed ferret exhibits, the Refuge exhibit features an outdoor enclosure that mimics a prairie dog town. The Refuge’s indoor/outdoor ferret house is the first of its kind and proves the “retired” an enriched environment. With over 80 feet of simulated burrows topped with prairie habitat, the ferrets have plenty to explore beyond their indoor enclosures! Come in the early morning hours or before sunset for a chance to see one of the ferrets outside.

    The Refuge’s outdoor enclosure mimics the larger pre-conditioning pens used at the National Black-Footed Ferret Conservation Center (BFFCC). Once they are selected for release, ferrets are put in these pens at the BFFCC for a minimum of 30 days to ensure they have the skills needed to survive in the wild. These pens enrich natural behaviors and expose them to sights and sounds they will experience on the prairie, which increases survival rates once released.

    The outdoor enclosure is open seven days a week; sunrise to sunset.

  • From the Brink of Extinction

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    Black-footed ferrets roamed the plains of North America for over 10,000 years, dating back to the last Ice Age. Unfortunately, the arrival of European settlers and their expansion westward introduced disease and brought habitat destruction to the prairie. Growing agricultural practices destroyed millions of acres of prairie dog habitat. Diseases like the rabies, canine distemper and the sylvatic plague came to the area from rats on foreign ships and spread throughout prairie dog colonies, killing prairie dogs and ferrets alike. With no natural immunity to these diseases and extreme loss of habitat, populations of prairie dogs and black-footed ferrets plummeted. Black-footed ferrets were declared extinct by the late 1980s.

    Fortunately, a small population of ferrets was discovered and captured just outside of Meeteetse, Wyoming in 1987. This group provided the founding members of the black-footed ferret captive breeding program managed primarily by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at the National Black-Footed Ferret Conservation Center near Carr, Colorado. Over 4,500 ferrets have been successfully produced from the program since its start in 1991, with over 300 ferrets returning to the wild over 25 different relocation sites across the plains.

  • Black-footed Ferrets Return to the Refuge

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    The Refuge was identified as an ideal location to release black-footed ferrets due to its abundant prairie dog population and prairie habitat. After a long absence, 32 black-footed ferrets were released on the Refuge in October 2015. Another 22 ferrets were released in September, 2016 to increase the population. Prior to release, the reintroduction sites were dusted for sylvatic plague for two years to prevent any pathway for disease. All ferrets were vaccinated against plague, canine distemper, and rabies, and then given transponder chips just below their skin to uniquely identify the animal during future surveys.

  • Biological Monitoring

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    Refuge biologists monitor ferrets at night by “spotlighting” or using high powered lights to search for the ferret’s emerald eye shine (reflection of the spotlight in their eyes).

    After locating a ferret in a prairie dog burrow, a ring reader is placed over the entrance of the burrow to read the transponder chip when ferrets poke their heads out of the hole, or “scope”. This helps biologists monitor the ferret’s behavior, movement, and overall health. Traps are also set out to capture the ferrets. Captured adults are assessed in the field and released. Captured wild born kits are vaccinated, chipped and released back to where they were found. Recent surveys have shown that the ferrets are doing very well and reproducing in the wild!

  • Black-footed Ferret Fun Facts

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    • Black-footed ferrets are members of the weasel family which includes: minks, badgers wolverines, otters, and domesticated ferrets.
    • They are the ONLY ferrets native to North America and differ from domesticated ferrets you can find in the pet store.
    • Male ferrets are called “hobs”, females are called “jills” and baby ferrets are called “kits”.
    • Ferrets weigh 1.5 to 2.5 pounds and measure 18 to 24 inches.
    • Ferrets live about 1-3 years in the wild.
    • Black-footed ferrets are solitary animals except during mating season and when mothers raise their young.
    • Black-footed ferrets rely solely on prairie dogs for shelter and food.
    • One ferret will consume up to 100 prairie dogs in a year!
    • Breeding season is March-April and four or five kits are born in May or June.

Last Updated: Feb 13, 2017
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