Endangered Ferrets Make Comeback in Ariz.
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: December 28, 2004
Filed at 8:46 p.m. ET
PHOENIX (AP) -- Endangered black-footed ferrets are reproducing more and
surviving longer in the wild in Arizona than they have since recovery
efforts began nearly a decade ago, according to wildlife biologists.
Biologists found 28 ferrets in the last two years in Arizona that were born
in the wild -- more than double the number found during any two-year period
since a reintroduction program began in 1996.
``The success in Arizona is great,'' said Mike Lockhart, a ferret recovery
coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. ``If it continues along
the same path, it could quickly become a self-sustaining population.''
While the yellowish-brown, wiry animals appear to be doing well in Arizona,
drought and the plague have devastated populations elsewhere across the
``We still have got a long, long ways to go to reach our objective,''
Lockhart said. ``Arizona is some pretty good news in the face of some bad
news in other places.''
Biologists thought the black-footed ferret was extinct in the late 1970s,
but about 120 of the nocturnal prowlers were found in the mid-1980s in
One reason for the low numbers is that the government killed thousands of
prairie dogs -- the ferrets' main food source -- during the last century
because they were considered pests.
``It came very, very close to extinction,'' Lockhart said. ``It was at one
time the most endangered mammal in North America, and it was undoubtedly one
of the most endangered in the world.''
In 1985, after disease killed most of the remaining ferrets, the last 18
were captured to start a breeding program, said Zen Mocarski, spokesman for
the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
Now their offspring live at reintroduction sites in the United States and
Mexico, including one in northwest Arizona near Seligman.
The only viable wild population in the country is in South Dakota, said
Lockhart. Two other populations in South Dakota and one in Wyoming are close
to being self-sustaining.
The plague has affected populations in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and Utah,
while the drought has hurt the animals in Colorado, Utah and in the northern
Mexico state of Chihuahua.
``It is a pretty dismal state of affairs in terms of habit availability for
this species,'' Lockhart said.
There are between 400 to 600 black-footed ferrets in the wild plus about 400
in captivity, Lockhart said.
The ferrets, which are related to weasels, remain threatened by the loss of
habitat and prairie dogs, he said.
The ferrets can grow to be a couple feet long and weigh about 2 1/2 pounds.
They have black face masks, black feet and black-tipped tails. In the wild,
the ferrets spend 99 percent of their time underground.