PUEBLO WEST — 14 endangered black-footed ferrets were released in a prairie dog colony on the Walker Ranch on Monday as part of a decades-long effort by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and other partners to restore the rarest mammal in North America.
On Monday, CPW released 10 juvenile and 4 adult ferrets into prairie dog burrows on the nearly 80,000-acre Walker Ranch outside Pueblo West. The ranch is owned by Gary and Georgia Walker, who are pioneers in creating safe harbors for ferrets on private land.
Emptying the camera after Monday's epic black-footed ferret release on Walker Ranch west of Pueblo by @COParksWildlife biologists. A couple of ferrets - the rarest mammal in North America - were kind enough to pose for us. This is the face of #wildlife #conservation. pic.twitter.com/eptWLAeTEE— CPW SE Region (@CPW_SE) November 19, 2019
Since 2013, 107 black-footed ferrets have been released on Walker Ranch by CPW biologists, who have invested extensive time and effort to monitor the colonies and distribute plague vaccine across the vast colonies in hopes of protecting the black-footed ferrets and the prairie dogs, which is their primary source of food and shelter.
The black-footed ferret is the only ferret species native to North America and twice was thought to be extinct due to habitat loss, widespread poisoning of prairie dog colonies and disease.
The last official record of a wild black-footed ferret in Colorado was near Buena Vista in 1943. Then in 1979, the last known black-footed ferret in captivity died and the only ferret species native to the U.S. was believed to be lost. Since 1967, black-footed ferrets have been listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.
CPW joined forces with USFWS, the Utah Division of WIldlife Resources and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to restore black-footed ferrets to their native range. Today, Colorado is one of eight states involved with the recovery of the species through reintroduction.
Ferrets were first reintroduced to Colorado om 2001 at Wolf Creek, north of Rangely. After dozens were released over several years, that site succumbed to a plague outbreak and collapsed by 2010.
An Easter Plains reintroduction strategy began in 2013 with the released of 300 ferrets to six Colorado sites. So far, 254 black-footed ferrets have been released on the private lands enrolled in the Safe Harbor Agreement (SHA) program. Most were raised in captivity at special breed facilities.
“Our goal is to create conditions where we have a self-sustaining population of ferrets and captive-born ferret releases are no longer necessary,” said Ed Schmal, CPW conservation biologist. “To do this, we need to maintain healthy prairie dog populations and implement annual plague management.”
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