Species: Black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes)
Status: Endangered (EN)
Interesting Fact: Once classified as Extinct in the Wild, the black-footed ferret is one of the world’s rarest mammals and the only ferret native to North America.
The black-footed ferret was once common throughout the Great Plains of western North America, but by 1987 it was extinct in the wild. Following reintroductions a number of wild populations now exist, however only three are considered self-sustaining. Found in prairies, this nocturnal ferret mostly preys on sleeping prairie dogs in their burrows.
A very large area of prairie (between 40 to 60 hectares) with a large population of prairie dogs is required to support a single black-footed ferret. Prairies have been modified for agriculture, and now less than two percent of the black-footed ferret’s habitat remains. In the mid 1900s prairie dogs were poisoned as they were thought to damage cropland, impacting black-footed ferret numbers significantly. Coupled with the impacts of disease, these threats led to the species apparent extinction in the 1970s. A last wild population was discovered in 1981, and the remaining 18 individuals were brought into captivity to prevent a ‘second’ extinction. A successful captive-breeding programme has been running ever since, and populations have now been reintroduced to 18 sites.
Find out more about the black-footed ferret on the Texas Parks and Wildlife website.
See images and videos of the black-footed ferret on the ARKive website.
Lauren Pascoe, ARKive Researcher