Thursday, August 19, 2010
Black-footed ferrets are ENDANGERED, but that's better than being EXTINCT, which is what people used to think the black-footed ferret was since nobody had seen one for a long, long time. But then in 1981, a bunch of ferrets got discovered on a ranch near a town in Wyoming called Meeteetse, which is a really funny name for a town.
There were about 130 black-footed ferrets there, and scientists started watching them to make sure they were doing okay. But then the ferrets started not doing okay because they got plague and also canine distemper, so a whole bunch of them died. After this, there were only 18 left, so the 18 ferrets were captured and taken to several zoos and asked if they could please make some baby ferrets. And so lots of baby ferrets, which are called kits, were born. Then after 10 years or so, there were enough ferrets to start putting them back out in the wild, where they used to live. But first they had to take a class called Being Wild 101.
So by 2007, the number of wild black-footed ferrets was over 750, and there were also still 250 in captivity. And in 2008, the label for the black-footed ferret got changed from EXTINCT IN THE WILD to ENDANGERED.
Black-footed ferrets are members of the weasel family, the same as otters, badgers, and wolverines. They are related to those ferrets like you can buy at the pet store, but the pet store ferrets are a tame variety that originally came from Europe. The black-footed ferret is the only kind of ferret that is native to North America.
A ferret can weigh up to 2 and a half pounds. They are 18 to 24 inches long, including their tails. Their favorite food is prairie dogs. In fact, 90% of what they eat is prairie dogs, which sounds like a gourmet sort of diet to me. In a year's time, a black-footed ferret can eat about 100 prairie dogs, plus some mice and birds and insects and other stuff. But the main thing they need to have around is prairie dogs. And the way they hunt them is they sneak down into the prairie dogs' tunnels at night and try to get a sleeping prairie dog. And during the day, they even live in prairie dog tunnels.
So the reason that the black-footed ferret almost went extinct was that people kept killing off all the prairie dogs, for the reasons I mentioned yesterday, and then the black-footed ferrets didn't have anything left to eat. But now, like I say, they are making a sort of comeback. And wherever a ferret is taken back into nature to be wild again, there has to be a great big Prairie Dog Town because it takes 125 acres of prairie dogs to feed one adult ferret.
I don't know if black-footed ferrets are good to eat or not, but they have anal scent glands, like their cousins in the weasel family, so I'm not sure I would want to try to find out. I think that, for now, I will just stick to prairie dogs.