On Friday, August 22, 2008, four litters of wild-born black-footed ferrets, the most endangered mammal in North America, were found in Logan County, Kansas, marking the first time ferrets had been documented on Kansas soil in 50 years.
The discovered litter marks a step forward for the black-footed ferret reintroduction program. In December 2007, 10 ferrets were released onto The Nature Conservancy’s Smoky Valley Ranch and 14 on other private lands, as part of a federal reintroduction effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).
“This is great news for all the partners involved with the reintroduction and for the public. We all hoped the reintroduction would be successful, but these are complex initiatives” said Rob Manes, Director of Conservation for The Nature Conservancy Kansas Chapter. “The discovery of these kits indicates that successes are possible.”
Over the past week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been surveying Smoky Valley Ranch and other Logan County reintroduction sites to determine how many ferrets were present after the spring whelping season. A total of four litters were found. Black-footed ferret litters may contain as many as four kits. Ferrets live and rear their young in prairie dog burrows; they also depend on prairie dogs as their main food source. The kits are usually born in May or June and do not come above ground for the first six weeks. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wanted to measure the success of the reintroduction before the kits mature and move to other prairie dog burrows.
The nocturnal black-footed ferret, which weighs no more than three pounds and measures less than two feet, has been at the brink of extinction in recent decades due to disease and loss of native grasslands – the least protected and most threatened terrestrial habitat on Earth. Additionally, prairie dogs are the ferrets main food source, and according to the FWS sources, prairie dog numbers have decreased by approximately 95 to 98 percent over the last century.
The Nature Conservancy in Kansas and in other Great Plains states is working to conserve both prairie dogs and black-footed ferrets as part of fully functioning ecosystems. In coordination with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, local landowners and other partners, The Conservancy is working to establish a shortgrass prairie landscape that will provide habitat for the ferret while protecting the interests of landowners and other stakeholders. The Conservancy is working at sites in multiple states to recover populations of prairie dogs, black-footed ferrets, and other key species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has set a goal of 1,500 breeding adult ferrets in the wild by 2010. Want to learn more about the black-footed ferret release and watch a video? Click here!
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.