Black-footed ferrets are an endangered species because they are so few in Northern America, their native origin. Their diet primarily includes prairie dogs, and the population of prairie dogs in North America determines the survival of the endangered species.
The black-footed ferret is part of the Mustelidae family, and its binomial name is Mustela Nigripes. There are efforts by wildlife organizations to help the black-footed ferrets increase into a healthy population.
Black-footed ferret species have faced many challenges in the past that have resulted in them being declared extinct.
Despite the challenges, there were residual animals discovered and are being breeds in captivity to grow the population before being released to the wild.
Also, similar efforts are taking place regarding the breeding of prairie dogs for the black-faced ferrets have food in the wild.
Black-Footed Ferret Description
The black-faced ferret has a distinct outlook because it has black legs, feet, half of the tail, and parts of the face. It resembles the European and steppe polecats closely.
It is part of the weasel family, and sometimes it resembles an African ferret. It is 19-21 inches long and has a tail about 4.5-5 inches long.
Female black-footed ferrets are smaller than males, and the ferrets don’t weigh more than 3.0 lbs. The areas around the eyes and sometimes at the neck have black fur.
Black-footed ferrets have brown fur from the base of their necks down to the top of the belly. However, the underbelly of the animals is yellowish.
Their bodies are covered with short fur from the head to the toes. The fur covers their sharp claws that they use when hunting prey. Their primary prey is prairie dogs, but they can eat rodents, rabbits, and other small animals in the wild.
Why is the Black-Footed Ferret Endangered?
The endangerment of the black-faced ferret happened between the 1800s and 1900s. Merchants hunted them for their pelts in the 1800s and the early 1900s.
However, their fur was cheap, and merchants needed many of them to turn a profit. Hunting the ferret species went on until the Endangered Species Act of 1973 was enforced by the government.
The Endangered Species act reduced the number of ferrets of the endangered species hunted for their pelts. In the 1900s, there was an increase in farming activities, and farmers converted forests into farms.
It affected the population of prairie dogs, which are the primary food source for the black-faced ferret. Farming chemicals and insecticides affected the prairie dogs population significantly, which affected the black-footed ferret population.
The Sylvatic plague affected the prairie dog population in 2005, making the black-footed ferrets endangered. It was severe that the plague cleared acres of prairie dogs colonies.
Experts proved in 2008 that ferrets are susceptible to the epidemic. Wildlife organizations in the U.S. have taken measures to vaccinate and dust areas where the plague may be present.
Currently, black-footed ferrets are bred in captivity and released in areas with thriving colonies for prairie dogs for food. The ferrets are vaccinated against the plague to ensure their survival and give them a chance to reproduce.
Habits of Black-footed Ferrets
Black-footed ferrets burrow in holes dug by prairie dogs to stay away from predators. They feed on rodents like rats and mice, rabbits, prairie dogs, and other small creatures.
Ferrets need a steady supply of food because they have a high metabolism. They don’t live in colonies unless it is a mating season or they are raising a litter.
The ferrets are nocturnal creatures, and they are active from dusk to early morning hours. Most of them spend the day sleeping or burrowing.
Black-footed ferrets are nomads like other ferret species, where they use homes made by other ferrets or prairie dogs. Male ones have a more extensive range of homes, cumulating to 200-300 acres.
Male ferrets can stay in female ferret homes when they are on the move. Female black-faced ferrets do not have a significant home range like their male counterparts. However, they do spend time in the same home ranges for one year.
The movement of black-footed ferrets is influenced by food sources, mating seasons, climatic seasons, and breeding seasons. The males determine the range of movement by the number of females they can access. Female ones determine the movement by the availability of food for the litter.
Distribution of Black-footed Ferrets
Black-footed ferrets are available in the states of Montana, Dakota, Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. The areas have a healthy population of different breeds of wild prairie dogs.
There are wildlife conservations in all the states above where captive black-faced ferrets are released into the wild.
There is a small population of black-footed ferrets that Mexico and others in the Grasslands National Park in Canada. Overall, most block-footed ferrets are available in America in wildlife refuges or conservations.
Reproduction of Black-footed Ferrets
Black-footed ferrets have low reproduction rates, unlike other animals in the Mustelidae family. They mate in February and March when a male and a female meet during the mating season.
Gestation takes 42-45 days, and the mother gives birth to a litter of about five kits. The female raises the kits for several months before they are independent.
Females stay in prairie dogs burrows and take care of kits for 6-weeks before they go out. They are distributed in caves near the mother when the kits are older.
Kits grow under the supervision of their mother for about 6-7 months when they leave home. The kits mature at 1-year old, and they will be ready to reproduce.
Black-footed Ferrets Breeding Programs
Since the start of 1985, there have been active breeding programs under the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
The breeding programs work with national parks, wildlife refuges, and conservations to reintroduce the black-footed ferret back into the wild. The program keeps the species in the best conditions to encourage reproduction.
Each year new ferrets are released from captivity and into the wild in areas with prairie dog colonies. Some rangers keep track of the endangered species to ensure that they don’t fall or become prey to larger predators.
Black-footed Ferrets Threats
The biggest threat to the existing population is disease. Once, wild black-footed ferrets died from a vaccine designed for domestic ones. There are subtle genetic differences that make black-faced ferrets endangered by many diseases.
Another threat to the species is the lack of food. New endangered ferrets are releases in areas with prairie dogs, but the disease can wipe out the food source. Wildlife organizations monitor the prairie dog colonies to ensure they can sustain the wild endangered species.
Ways to Increase the Black-Footed Ferret Population
Adopting black-footed ferrets bred in captivity can provide a safe home where they can reproduce. If more Americans adopted the endangered ferret species, there is a chance that the population can increase drastically.
Pet owners take excellent care of their pets, and it can increase the mortality rates of kits. When more kits make it to adulthood, it increases the likelihood of preserving the endangered species.
Also, it is a great way to teach more people about endangered species.
The black-footed endangered species has a long way to go before getting a change in status on the UN Red List. There are a few thousand animals currently in Northern America.
However, the species has to overcome threats in the wild to increase its numbers. The numbers are steadily growing due to active breeding programs in captivity.
The black-faced ferret is an essential part of the economy because it can manage rodent populations. Therefore, introducing them back in the wild is an excellent way to improve the ecosystem in North American forests.
Hopefully, more pet owners will adopt the endangered species to keep them safe and increase continuity in the species. So what to read next? Why not check out the Chinese Badger Ferret.
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