Critically Endangered Black-Footed Ferrets Born at CMZoo Prepare for Wild Release

July 27, 2023

With each passing day, the development of our black-footed ferret kits seems to be on fast-forward, as they eagerly explore their surroundings and pick up new skills. Black-footed ferret (BFF) kits are about the size of a pinky finger when they are born. They experience major milestones, such as growing their baby teeth, eating meat, and opening their eyes, in their first 60 days of life.

Since 1991, we have successfully bred 605 BFF kits in our behind-the-scenes conservation center. We have partnered with other zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, National Black-Footed Ferret Conservation Center and other organizations to breed, release, and monitor black-footed ferrets to increase their wild population.

Native to prairies stretching from Mexico to Canada, BFFs were thought to be extinct in the 1980s. During Western frontier explorations in the early 1900s, cargo ships from Europe and Asia inadvertently brought sylvatic plague to North America. The spread of the plague bacteria by fleas among prairie dogs (and other animals), combined with poisoning and eradication programs led by newly settled farmers and ranchers who saw prairie dogs as pests, drastically reduced the prairie dog population. Because prairie dogs are their main food source, BFF populations declined dramatically along with them.

On Sept. 26, 1981, a ranch dog named Shep caught a BFF. Shep’s catch led to the discovery of a small population of the elusive animals in Meeteetse, Wyoming. Since then, zoos, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, National Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center and other organizations have banded together to breed, prepare, release and monitor BFFs to increase the population.

Because they or their offspring could be released to the wild, every effort is made to keep the black-footed ferrets as wild as possible. So, they are not visible to CMZoo guests. Guests can see a BFF, named Rouge, in The Loft! Every CMZoo guest helps support this important program because 75 cents from every visit goes to Quarters for Conservation, which helps fund BFF conservation and other important efforts around the world.

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