Black-footed ferrets once numbered in the tens of thousands, but the weasel-like animals almost disappeared because of a combination of human-induced threats. Twice in the 20th century, they were thought to be extinct.
In 1981, a small population of the species was rediscovered in Meeteetse, Wyoming. Because of disease, however, by 1986 only 18 individuals were known to exist in this isolated wild population.
Scientists captured these remaining ferrets, and they became the foundation for a successful captive breeding and reintroduction program that continues today.
This Service-led program each year releases black-footed ferrets into the wild at several reintroduction sites across the West.
Currently, there are approximately 280 black-footed ferrets at captive breeding facilities. These recovery efforts are managed by the Service’s National Black-Footed Ferret Conservation Center in northern Colorado and partners in multiple states.