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Black Footed Ferret

The Black Footed Ferret is a member of the weasel family, a group that includes wolverines, mink and otter. It's the only ferret native to North America (domestic ferrets are of European origin).

Adults average 18-26 inches long (including tail), weigh 1.5 - 2.5 pounds, and stand up to 6" tall (males are generally a bit larger than females). Ferrets live 3-4 years in the wild, and 8-9 years in captivity.

Range and Population: The black footed ferret (BFF) is believed to have evolved in Eurasia 3-4 million years ago, migrating to North America about 100,000 years ago via the Bering Strait land bridge. It established itself in the high elevation grasslands of Canada, the Dakotas, Rocky Mountain foothills, and Great Plains as far south as northern Mexico.

Habitat loss, fragmentation, development and poisoning by ranchers have reduced BFF occupied range to less than 2% of its original. Western agricultural expansion triggered aggressive extermination of prairie dogs - their primary food source - leaving black footed ferrets on the brink. By the late 1800s BBFs were becoming rare, and declared extinct in the 1960s and again in the 1970s.

A small population was discovered by a dog in 1981 in northwest Wyoming, from which 18 individuals were drawn for captive breeding. Over 7,000 kits have been born since, with 2,300 + released in the wild. Though black footed ferrets remain among the world's most endangered animals, coordinated breeding and restoration efforts throughout the US and Canada are giving the BFF hope for recovery.

Traits and Diet: The Black footed ferret is carnivorous, specializing in prairie dogs - up to 90% of its diet. Black footed ferrets live within prairie dog villages and spend about 90% of their lives underground. BFFs are generally solitary, but cross paths with others as they often share the same hunting grounds. BFFs are nocturnal, emerging at night to hunt. It's thought individual ferrets consume over 100 prairie dogs per year. The BBF has short legs but large front paws and claws adapted for digging burrows and reaching subterranean prey. Its large skull, strong jaw and sharp teeth are ideal for eating meat. Scientists believe black footed ferrets need at least 10,000 acres of prairie dog colonies to survive, a challenging figure given the vast, disruptive reach of modern agriculture and overall reduction in prairie dog populations.

Reproduction: Black footed ferrets mate March - April, and give birth to 3-4 kits after a 41-43 gestation period. Kits are born blind and remain below ground until they're about 2 months old, after which they'll begin accompanying their mother on hunts. Interestingly, mothers will separate kits into different burrows at this time as well. After 6 months juveniles are completely independent, and venture off to find their own territory.