The black-footed ferret is a dapper looking member of the weasel family– with their svelte, long bodies, fashionable black masks and signature black paws, these ferrets are very handsome residents of the North American prairies. Black-footed ferrets love the nightlife, and will spend their evenings routing through underground tunnels in search of their favourite food: the prairie dog!
Although they will at times catch mice or voles to eat, prairie dogs make up as much as 90% of the black-footed ferret’s diet! Using their stout, strong limbs for digging, black-footed ferrets will plunge straight into prairie dog tunnels, catching their sleeping prey in their powerful jaws. Once they’ve eaten up a whole family of prairie dogs, the ferrets will sometime claim the den for themselves, which saves them the effort of making their own tunnels to rest in during the day.
Given that black-footed ferrets are so dependent on prairie dogs and their tunnels for food and shelter, it’s no surprise that the ferrets began to disappear as humans worked to eradicate the prairie dog from grasslands deemed valuable for farming. The effect was so great, that in 1987 the black-footed ferret was declared extinct in the wild.
With the survival of the entire species depending on just a handful of ferrets living in captivity, governments and organizations launched a series of captive breeding programs in a desperate attempt to save these wonderful weasels. The Toronto Zoo has been responsible for breeding and successfully reintroducing hundreds of black-footed ferrets to select areas all across North America. As of 2007, the number of ferrets living in the wild was estimated to be over 650 individuals! This astonishing rate of recovery is a testament to the great things people can accomplish when they work together!
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