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Black-footed Ferret Mustela nigripes


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Black-footed Ferret
credit: PDH

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Family: Mustelidae, Weasels view all from this family

Description Unique with a sandy-colored body and dark feet, tail tip, and facial mask. Difficult to see, they are nocturnal and terrestrial, and may remain in prairie dog burrows for extended periods in winter. Presence is indicated by tracks in snow, and in digging for prey they often leave a distinctive pile of soil on the surface

Dimensions 490-600mm, 107-140mm, 915-1125g; / 479-518mm, 120-141mm, 645-850g

Endangered Status The Black-footed Ferret is on the U.S. Endangered Species List. It is classified as endangered throughout its range in Colorado, Kansas, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. This species is the only wild ferret in existence, and the rarest North American mammal. Its range originally extended as far north as Alaska, but the slaughter of prairie dogs (its primary food) and the destruction of prairie dog towns (the ferret's preferred habitat) has reduced its range considerably and driven the ferret to near extinction. The animal was listed as endangered in 1973, but a surviving population wasn't found until 1981. Those 100-odd ferrets, living in Meeteetse, Wyoming, were nearly wiped out by canine distemper disease, and the remaining ferrets were captured and taken to captive-breeding facilities in 1987. Since then Black-footed Ferrets have been captive-bred and released in the wild, but the prairie dog population remains unstable, and it is not known whether the ferret can ultimately be saved from extinction.

Breeding Breeding is in March-April, gestation is 42-45 days, and litter size is 3 or 4.

Habitat Grasslands & prairies

Range Plains, Rocky Mountains

Discussion This masked weasel survives only in captivity and in a few recently reintroduced wild populations in western states. Reclaiming prairie dog towns and surrounding areas in western grasslands, now reintroduced in parts of their historic range in Wyoming, South Dakota, Montana, and Arizona.