Black Footed Ferret
© Michael Lockhart/USFWS

Black-Footed Ferret

What Defenders is Doing

As an official member of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) black-footed ferret recovery implementation team, Defenders of Wildlife works with governments, non-profits and private landowners to maintain and expand recovery sites for ferrets in their native western and central grassland and shrublands. 

Though we have a long way to go, by nearly all measurements, the black-footed ferret’s reintroduction to the wild has been a stunning accomplishment. Our challenge continues to be establishing more large colonies of prairie dogs so that we can finish the job of restoring one of the most endangered mammals on the continent.

Black-footed Ferret Recovery Team

As an official member of the FWS black-footed ferret recovery team, Defenders is helping to reintroduce black-footed ferrets and protect them once reintroduced. Because of the critical importance of prairie dogs to black-footed ferrets, Defenders is also working to restore prairie dogs to new sites and prevent the destruction of prairie dog colonies in existing black-footed ferret areas, such as Conata Basin, South Dakota—one of the most important locations for black-footed ferrets.

Ferrets Reintroduced to Fort Belknap Reservation

The Gros Ventre and Assiniboine tribes of the Fort Belknap Indian Community have developed a Black-footed Ferret Reintroduction Project on tribal lands in order to increase potential for hosting a self-sustaining (120 breeding adults) population of black-footed ferrets. 

Defenders helped reintroduce ferrets to Fort Belknap Reservation in northcentral Montana. Along with our partners from Fort Belknap Fish and Wildlife department and World Wildlife Fund, we mapped the recovering prairie dog colonies, dusted them to prevent plague, and reintroduced 32 ferrets. Our hope is that this site will grow in size and become home to a stable ferret population in future years.

Ferrets Reintroduced to Western Kansas

Defenders helped ranchers in Kansas fight to save prairie dogs and a recently-reintroduced ferret population from a century-old state law requiring the death of all prairie dogs. Defenders engaged our members in Kansas and elsewhere to ask then-Governor Sebelius to help these landowners. Almost 33,000 members responded, helping to raise the profile of this important conservation effort. After years of legal attacks from the county commissioners, these ranchers won their right to maintain wildlife – including prairie dogs and black-footed ferrets – on their ranches. In addition to this effort, Defenders has been on the ground helping these landowners with coexistence tools to reduce conflict with neighboring landowners who do not want prairie dog colonies expanding onto their properties.

Captive Breeding Program Brings Success in the Wild

Defenders has been instrumental in a successful black-footed ferret captive-breeding program, initiated in 1987, that continues to this day. Now, ferrets are living in the wild in more than two 

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Habitat destruction from plowing the land for crops, exotic diseases and widespread poisoning of its prairie dog prey almost caused North America’s only native ferret species to disappear for good.
Defenders' staff get ready to release black-footed ferrets. From left: Russ Talmo, Kylie Paul, Charlotte Conley and Jonathan Proctor, Photo: Kylie Paul/DOW
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Defenders' team helps reintroduce endangered black-footed ferrets to tribal lands in the West.
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