Black-footed ferrets were thought to be extinct twice. Before our recent reintroduction efforts, they had been absent from Colorado since the early 1940s. A small population was found in Wyoming in 1981 resulting in eight breeding ferrets; all black-footed ferrets are now descendants of those individuals. Currently there are about 600 ferrets split between captive breeding facilities and wild relocation sites.
Why Are Black-footed Ferrets Important?
They are the only ferret species native to North America. Their story is a roller coaster ride, and the fact that Colorado is now home to six reintroduction sites is an amazing success.
Ferrets are a mid-level predator, preying mostly on prairie dogs and providing food for raptors and other night hunters.
What are the associated challenges?
What Is CPW Doing?
Ferrets were first reintroduced to Colorado in 2001 at Wolf Creek north of Rangely. That site succumbed to a plague outbreak and collapsed by 2010.
We began an Eastern Plains reintroduction program in 2013, releasing 300 ferrets to six Colorado sites. In order to be released, individual ferrets have to display their ability to survive in the wild; this training and preparation takes place at the
National Black-Footed Ferret Conservation Center in Larimer County.
These efforts are so recent that we can’t know for sure whether they’ll be deemed a “success,” but we were thrilled to find our first wild-born kit, or baby ferret, in 2015 and more after that! Much of our current work focuses on plague management to ensure continued persistence of the ferrets and prairie dogs they rely on. We are also continuing our ferret reintroduction efforts, striving to increase genetic diversity at each site.