The endangered black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) is a member of the weasel family (Mustelidae) which had been thought as extinct before. Unlike the domestic ferret which has already been domesticated for hundreds of years, the black-footed ferret is a wild ferret native to North America. It has a tan body with black legs and feet, a black tip on the tail and a black mask. Its legs are short with large front paws and claws which are used for digging. It has a large skull with strong jaws used for eating meat. Read our ferrets as pets section, If You’re Interested in Studying Ferrets in More Depth
Black-footed ferrets have anal scent glands just like the other member of the weasel family. They are 18-24 inches long, including a 5-6 inch tail, weighing two and a half pounds. They are considered as solitary animals except during mating season and when mothers are raising their young.
Their diet is composed of 90% prairie dogs, meaning, these animals can eat more than 100 prairie dogs per year. They hunt them in their burrows and take shelter in abandoned prairie dog dwellings. They also eat ground squirrels, small rodents, rabbits and birds.
Before they became endangered, they were commonly found throughout the Great Plains, from Texas to southern Saskatchewan, Canada. They also extended from the Rocky Mountains eastward through the Dakotas and south through Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.
In 1967, it was declared that the black-footed ferret was endangered. Because black-footed ferrets rely on prairie dogs for food and shelter, their existence was endangered when prairie dogs were considered as pests in the late 1900s. There was widespread poisoning of prairie dogs and the agricultural clearing of their habitat in the last century which in turn, affected the black-footed ferrets. Other factors for their near extinction were secondary poisoning from prairie dogs toxicants and canine distemper. The good news is, at present, this number has gradually improved due to captive breeding and recovery programs as well as reintroduction into the wild from these captive populations. At present, prairie dog habitats are being maintained to sustain a stable population of ferrets.
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