DOG & BLACK-FOOTED FERRET
historical range of the black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) spanned
much of western North America’s intermountain and prairie
grasslands extending from Canada to Mexico. Completely
dependent on prairie dogs (Cynomys spp.) for food
and on their borrows for shelter, the historical range of
black-footed ferrets coincided closely with the
distributions of the black-tailed prairie dog (C.
ludovicianus), Gunnison’s prairie dog (C.
gunnisoni) and white-tailed prairie dog (C.
a result of introduced disease and anthropogenic
persecution of prairie dogs, ferret populations declined
to a point where the species was considered
efforts to restore the species followed the discovery of a
small population in Mellette County, South Dakota in 1964.
attempts at captive breeding with a few captured animals
from this population failed, and the last wild ferret
observed at the Mellette County site was in 1974. When the last
captive animal died at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
in Laurel, Maryland in 1979, the ferret was again presumed
1981, a second population was discovered in Meeteetse,
Wyoming. Following disease outbreaks at Meeteetse, 18
surviving wild black-footed ferrets were removed between
1985 and 1987 to initiate a captive breeding program. No
wild populations of black-footed ferrets have been found
since the capture of the last Meeteetse ferret, despite
intensive range wide surveys. Extant
populations, both captive and reintroduced, all descend
from these 18 founding animals. Black-footed ferrets
remain one of the most endangered mammals in North
species now exists in the wild at 17 reintroduction sites
across 8 States, Canada, and Mexico.
The Turner Endangered Species Fund (TESF) released 33 black-footed ferrets at Vermejo Park Ranch (VPR) and temporarily released 14 ferrets as part of a wild pre-conditioning experiment at Bad River Ranches (BRR). Eight of the 14 ferrets released at BRR in 2010 and 2 ferrets released in 2009 were recaptured and sent to VPR for permanent release. The VPR ferret release project documented poor adult summer survival and no kits were produced in 2010, the cause of which is currently under investigation. TESF personnel established 6 new Gunnison’s prairie dog colonies on the shortgrass prairie of VPR, supplemented two Gunnison’s colonies established in 2009 and introduced 180 Gunnison’s into an unoccupied black-tailed prairie dog colony. All Gunnison’s colonies were prophylactically dusted with a pulicide to prevent plague. One new black-tailed colony was established at BRR. Mapping at VPR indicated 44 black-tailed colonies, covering 8,243 acres, and 30 Gunnison’ colonies covering 730 acres. Mapping at Bad River indicated 73 black-tailed prairie dog colonies covering 3,253 acres; colonies in the Ash Creek Recovery Area (ACRA) shrank by 6% to cover 1,467 acres. The Z-Bar Ranch has 15 black-tailed colonies covering 462 acres. Efforts to limit black-tailed colony growth at VPR included the installation of raptor perches, tree carcass barriers and shooting. Blowing dust remained a problem at VPR in 2010 which elicited a chiseling and reseeding effort and a deferred grazing schedule on the Phoneline colony. Managers at the Ladder, Armendaris and the Nebraska Ranches managed black-tailed prairie dogs on their respective properties independently. Several university funded prairie dog research projects are ongoing at VPR and BRR.