Becoming Ferret-Friendly

A distant relative of the common domestic ferret, the wild black-footed ferret of North America is endangered, in large part because of the mass die-off of its main food source—prairie dogs—at the hands of poisoning, shootings and diseases (see "Open Season on Varmints," cover story, July/August 2004). Black-footed ferrets were thought to be extinct until 1981, when scientists discovered a population of 18 in Meeteeste, Wyoming. The animals were subsequently captured for breeding in captivity, with the goal of release into the wild.

The black-footed ferret is making a small-scale comeback.© photos to go

Now, the number of these wiry, nocturnal mammals born in the wild is at an all-time high since a reintroduction program began in 1996 in Arizona. After finding 28 wild ferrets in the last two years in Arizona, wildlife biologists say that these endangered mammals are reproducing more and surviving longer in their native habitat.