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.