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April 4, 2011

Celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the Black-Footed Ferret Rediscovery

High up on the mountain between the exhibits of the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and the Will Roger’s Shrine of the Sun, lies a quiet building that very few have a chance to see. This building is closed to guests for several reasons, the main one being that the animals inside are very prone to stress. This means that they do not tolerate noise well and are sensitive to many common diseases. They are also possible candidates for release to the wild and need maintain a healthy fear of humans. The residents inside are endangered black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes) or BFFs for short. They were thought to have been extinct twice in their natural history and if it wasn’t for a rancher in Meeteetse, Wyoming and his dog named Shep, they might actually be extinct today.

2011 is a very exciting year as it marks the 30th anniversary of the rediscovery of one of the last wild black footed-ferret populations. The official date of rediscovery was September 26th, 1981. The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has been involved with the recovery of this species since 1990. As part of the 30th anniversary celebration, we are going to make frequent BFF postings on our blog. Readers can follow along as we gear up for the beginning of the breeding season and see what exactly goes on in an intensive endangered species breeding and reintroduction program.

First, let’s start with some background information. The black-footed ferrets are nocturnal predators that live a solitary life as an adult. They are the only ferret native to the Americas and once lived throughout the Great Plains from Saskatchewan, Canada to Northern Mexico. They are a member of the Mustelidae family which includes otters, badgers, mink and weasels. The BFF is a specialist; it relies almost entirely on prairie dogs for food as well as their burrows for shelter. From nose to tail tip they are 18-24 inches long and can weigh up to two-and-a-half pounds. Natural predators of the BFF are owls, hawks, eagles, coyotes, and badgers.

Learn more about the black-footed ferret and Cheyenne Mountain Zoo's conservation efforts on our website.

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