On Tuesday, December 18, 2007 at The Nature Conservancy’s 17,000-acre Smoky Valley Ranch preserve in Logan County, Kansas, 10 endangered black footed-ferrets were released into the wild by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). This reintroduction marks the first time that live ferrets, once believed extinct, have been documented on
“The black-footed ferret is the rarest mammal in North America, and the only ferret species native to this country,” said Alan Pollom, state director for The Nature Conservancy in
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, loss of native grasslands from land conversion and development, and a steep decline in the number of prairie dogs, their main food source. According to the U.S. FWS, populations of black-footed have decreased by approximately 95 to 98 percent over the last century.
Kansas has a rich natural heritage – 28 of the 82 black-footed ferret specimens housed in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History originated from the state – but it’s estimated that 80 percent of the state’s shortgrass prairie has been converted to crop production, affecting not only ferrets but also species such as the Ferruginous Hawk, swift fox, and burrowing owls, which all depend on prairie dogs for major components of their food and habitat needs. In 1999, the Conservancy acquired Smoky Valley Ranch in order to conserve a dramatic example of
Prairie dogs, the ferret’s source of food, are unwelcome by many ranchers because of concerns that prairie dogs may compete for livestock forage. As a result, prairie dogs have for years been the targets of extensive eradication campaigns. At the same time, prairie dogs are considered by scientists to be keystone species in short- and mixed-grass landscapes. This divergence in perspectives has created long-standing tensions between some ranchers who are concerned over economic losses and those who are working to recover important species like the black-footed ferret.
The Nature Conservancy in
“Today’s reintroduction of these ferrets to the wild is important, not just for the species’ recovery, but also for the people of
The black-footed ferrets released on Tuesday were produced in a federal captive rearing program, and each ferret will be tagged with an electronic locating device. While a high mortality rate for newly released ferrets in the wild is common, future infusions of both captive reared and wild captured ferrets are anticipated for the site and goals for ferret recovery are aggressive.
“Efforts to change the species’ status from endangered to threatened involve establishing 10 free-ranging populations of ferrets, spread over large areas in the
Shortly after Tuesday’s release on the Conservancy’s preserve, the FWS continued its recovery efforts by releasing an additional 14 ferrets in coordination with other nearby landowners.
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.