Black Footed Ferret Rescued From Doom

"The black-footed ferret, once the rarest mammal in the world, has made an astonishing comeback in the U.S. state of Wyoming after a captive breeding program, researchers said on Thursday. An estimated 223 of the weasel-like animals are busy hunting prairie dogs in the Shirley Basin area, the researchers report in this week's issue of the journal Science. The animals are all descended from seven ferrets rescued in 1986, Martin Grenier of the University of Wyoming and colleagues reported."

Reportedly, ranchers are supportive of the recovery effort in part because of their disdain for Prairie Dogs, primary prey of the Black Footed Ferret. Without the "dogs" no ferrets. This calls for balance. Next thing you know ranchers will learn to like the American Bison - and we'll be headed toward what researchers call "ecosystem recovery."

See photo of Black Tailed Prairie Dogs, and publication summary from Science Magazine below the fold.

Via:: Reuters, UK, Rare Black-Footed Ferrets Make Comeback Image credits:: Smithsonian, National Zoo, Black Footed Ferret Kits and The National Biological Information Infrastructure, Paul Marinen, and National Park Service, Wind Cave National Park Blacktail Prairie Dog
Black-Footed Ferret Recovery
Andy Dobson and Annarie Lyles

The black-footed ferret, indigenous to the western United States, was believed to be extinct by the 1970s after a precipitous decline in its main food source, prairie dogs. The accidental discovery of a remnant colony of black-footed ferrets in Wyoming 20 years ago prompted the launch of an ambitious captive breeding program to save this species. As Dobson and Lyles discuss in a Perspective, the combined efforts of veterinarians, zoologists, ecologists and wild-life managers, not to mention 35 private and government agencies, has resulted in a remarkable comeback for this sleek carnivore. Through aggressive captive breeding programs and prerelease behavioral conditioning, the release of captive ferrets to their original habitats in the Rocky Mountains has resulted in the seeding of four wild breeding colonies. But the ultimate success of this ambitious project will depend on sustaining sufficiently large colonies of prairie dogs that constitute the black-footed ferret's exclusive prey.
The authors are in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, NJ 08544 and Wildlife Conservation Society, 830 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010, USA. E-mail: andy@eno.princeton.edu

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