Long Live Black-Footed Ferrets!

September 26 is Black-Footed Ferret Day, a day to celebrate the rediscovery of a species once thought to be extinct.

black-footed ferret walking
© Marylou Zarbock
Black-footed ferrets were once thought to be extinct.

September 26 is BFF Day! That acronym does not stand for Best Friends Forever Day; it stands for Black-Footed Ferret Day. Black-footed ferrets are the only ferret native to North America. They are a wild species that was thought to be extinct by the late 1970s. But on September 26, 1981, a ranch dog in Meeteetse, Wyoming, captured a black-footed ferret. This led to the discovery of a small population and serious efforts to save the species swung into action. The species was listed as endangered.

Captive-breeding efforts were successful enough that in 1991, black-footed ferrets began to be introduced back into the wild in select areas of their historic range on the American prairie. The range extends from southern Saskatchewan in Canada down through 12 U.S. states to northwest Chihuahua in Mexico. Reintroduction began in Wyoming and subsequent introduction sites were added in the states of South Dakota, Colorado, Montana, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and Kansas, and a reintroduction site exists in Saskatchewan, Canada, and Chihuahua, Mexico.

The recovery efforts for the black-footed ferret are looked upon as a success story, but the goal of having a thriving wild population is still years away. And the journey has had its challenges, including Sylvatic plague, canine distemper, bad weather and more. The latest bump in the road to success is the postponement of reintroducing black-footed ferrets to a site in Texas. This would be a new site and add an 11th state of the original 12 states that previously had thriving black-footed ferret populations (Oklahoma is the 12th). Three years of drought put a halt to the reintroduction. But plans are going forward with adding 30 more ferrets to an existing black-footed ferret reintroduction site in Montana on October 3. 2013.

Travis Livieri, a biologist and executive director of Prairie Wildlife Research, wrote a blog about his work with black-footed ferrets for SmallAnimalChannel, and his PWR website gives current information about recovery efforts. Other websites to check out include the Black-Footed Ferret Recovery Implementation Team and the National Black-Footed Ferret Conservation Center.

How do you celebrate Black-Footed Ferret Day? Some students in Meeteetse, which is Ground Zero for the rediscovery of the species, are being treated to a presentation at their school and a visit from Mr. Brightside, a black-footed ferret that is brought to education programs. Students will also have a chance to take a trip to Pitchfork Ranch, which is where the black-footed ferrets were rediscovered.

The Fort Collins Museum of Discovery is home to Mr. Brightside, so you could plan a visit there or to a zoo that has a black-footed ferret exhibit. The Phoenix Zoo has a black-footed ferret cam running, so you can see them in action.

Another cool option is to check out an online black-footed ferret session with Livieri. He is answering questions and sharing photos about black-footed ferrets on the BFF Day Facebook page at 7 p.m. Mountain Time (9 p.m. Eastern Time).

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