Thirty years ago something remarkable happened on a ranch outside of Meeteetse, Wyoming. A black-footed ferret, a small nocturnal carnivore thought to be extinct, was found by John and Lucille Hogg’s dog Shep. This event led to the dramatic discovery of a small group of about 130 black-footed ferrets and offered a ray of hope for the species.
Research conducted on the Meeteetse population provided important new information on the life history and behavior of this secretive mammal. Tragically, outbreaks of canine distemper and probably sylvatic plague nearly killed all of the Meeteetse ferrets. The remaining 18 individuals were taken into captivity between 1985 and 1987 in an effort to save the species. At that time, these last known ferrets were the rarest mammals on earth and the fate of North America’s only native ferret species was unclear.
The Black-footed Ferret Recovery Program is celebrating two major milestones this year: the 30th Anniversary of the species rediscovery and the 20th Anniversary of their successful return to the wild. The recovery team includes partners from federal, state and tribal agencies as well as private landowners, the Zoo community and many non-government organizations. “The successful return of the black-footed ferret to the prairie ecosystem of North America has truly been a collective effort,” said Steve Guertin, Region 6 Director. “To know that we came so close to losing this species and now have about 1,000 black-footed ferrets in numerous sites throughout their historic range–it’s encouraging.” [source]
This is wonderful to hear! Of the entire range of the black-footed ferret, only the small population, in the South Dakota Badlands, was thought to be self-substaining. Intimately linked in habitat and range with the praire-dog (they eat both prairie dogs *yum* and live in their abandoned burrows *cozy*); years of drought leading to increased competition and poisoning of praire-dog communities by ranchers and state government has led the only North American species of ferret to near extinction. Even now, with over 500 individuals thought to be living in the South Dakota badlands, finding one is a rare event. Like finding a needle in a haystack, an honest lawyer or a Buddha in the Great Plains.
Still haven’t found any of those.