Black-footed Ferret


Scientific Classification

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Family: Mustelidae
  • Genus: Mustela
  • Species: M. Nigripes

The Black-footed Ferret is also known as the prairie bandit because of the coloration on its face that resembles a raccoon-like mask. This long and slim predator has large front paws equipped with sharp claws, which have evolved perfectly for digging. Native to North America, and closely related to the weasel family, the Black-Footed Ferret makes it habitat in the burrows of Prairie Dogs. 90% of the animal’s food source is made up of Prairie Dogs, the other 10% being small rodents and birds found on land. Black-footed Ferrets are nocturnal creatures and spend most of their lives underground, sleeping and raising their young in burrows.

Today the Black-footed Ferret is still found in the area in which it first evolved, though numbers have been decreasing rapidly in recent years. It is now considered the most endangered mammal in North America, with approximately only 300 remaining in the wild. The critically endangered Black-footed Ferrets once lived across the Great Plains, from Southern Canada to Northern Mexico, by 1986, they had completely disappeared in these areas. Exotic diseases like “Sylvatic Plague” and widespread destruction of their natural habitats brought the Black-footed Ferrets to the brink of extinction in the 20th century.

Although still endangered, thanks to habitat management and captive breeding and reintroduction, Black-footed Ferrets are starting to make a comeback. Environmentalists and activists of Wildlife are helping to achieve this remarkable wildlife success story. In 2016, they have been reintroduced to several locations in eight U.S. states, Canada and Mexico.

Estimated Black-footed Ferret population figures between 1980 and 2020

The graph above represents the fluctuations seen in the Black Footed Ferret wild population between the years of 1982 and 2016, today the population is estimated to be between 250-300 individuals. In 1964 the species was officially listed as endangered and since then major conservation efforts have took place.

In 1988 all of the remaining Black Footed Ferrets known in the wild were captured, for what was projected to be an intensive conservation project. Previously, their population fluctuations were a result of disease amongst the population as well as difficulties with reproduction.

As the conservation efforts got under way, the species began to grow steadily and since has been released back into the wild in some areas of North America. The re-growth of the grassland ecosystem has also played a major role in the population growth of species, as it is relied upon for their survival. Since 1982, their population number has almost trebled and shows significant hope for the future of the species.

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