“Black-footed ferrets were considered all but extinct 25 years ago,” said Steve Forrest with WWF’s Northern Great Plains programme in the United States and an expert on black-footed ferrets.
The loss of the ferret’s prairie grassland habitat and the drastic reduction of prairie dog numbers (through both habitat loss and poisoning) contributed to the near-extinction of the species.
The ferret lives exclusively in prairie dog burrows and prairie dogs comprise nearly all of their diet.
“At one point, just 18 of these ferrets existed in the world,” Forrest added,
“And it has taken heroic efforts to get them to where we are today, with about 700 now living in the wild.
Most of those ferrets are in Conata Basin and some scientists believe the population there is about as small as it can go and remain viable.
“Further poisoning of prairie dogs represents a major threat,” he added.
Black-footed ferrets once occurred in grassland habitats throughout the Great Plains in 12 US states and 2 Canadian provinces, and possibly portions of northern Mexico.
Originally, the prairie dog ecosystem occupied 20 per cent of the entire western rangeland.
Today, less than 2 per cent of their original geographic distribution remains.
The Conata Basin, near the small town of Wall, South Dakota, is among the areas being considered for prairie dog poisoning under a US government-sponsored programme.
The poisoning would also affect endangered swift foxes, burrowing owls, eagles, hawks and other species that live in prairie dog burrows and/or prey upon them in the Buffalo Gap and Fort Pierre national grasslands in South Dakota and Oglala National Grassland in Nebraska.
Update August 2008: here.
Bozeman, MT: October 2, 2009 – After a 70-year absence from Canada, black-footed ferrets will once again prowl the prairies, following today’s release of more than 30 captive-bred animals into Canada’s Grasslands National Park. Leading the reintroduction were staff from a dozen different conservation organizations, governments and zoos, including species experts from WWF-US and WWF-Canada: here.
Elusive Black-footed ferret enjoys its first spring on Canadian prairies for 70 years: here.
Canada’s first wild-born black-footed ferrets in 70 years have been spotted by delighted conservationists in Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan – and the antics of the mother and her three kits have been caught on camera by a documentary film crew: here.
Black-tailed prairie dogs return to historical site in Arizona: here.
Burrowing US prairie dogs use complex language: here.
Coyote! Badger! Prairie dogs alert each other to specific predators: here.
Decoding Prairie Dog Language: here.
Coyotes and wolves: here.
Swift foxes: here.