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July 7, 2011

Celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the Black-Footed Ferret’s Rediscovery - Part VII: Breeding Season

Black-footed ferret (BFF) kits grow very fast.  At birth they can weigh as little as 5 grams, the same weight of a US nickel! The nest box is cleaned once at 4 days old and then a daily cleaning of the nest box resumes when the kits are 9 days old. The dams are very reluctant to leave their kits, so we usually clean them right before feeding time. The meat ball sometimes entices the dam to go to the upper enclosure long enough to close the shift slider of the nest box. We quickly clean the latrine side of the nest box.  Take a quick peek at the kits on the nest side and then let the dams back to their kits.  This allows us the opportunity to check on the kits and make sure they are looking good.
Bunting’s litter at 4 days of age.

Bunting’s litter at 9 days of age.
While Bunting’s litter continues to grow, other expectant females are due.  Over the next several weeks more litters are born.  Of the 11 SSP females 7 whelped, including the female that was given hormones to ovulate. It is extremely rare for this to be successful.  We also had 2 additional litters that belong to two 5 year olds which is also not common.  In total we had 34 kits born! This is currently a record number of BFF births for Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.  For reasons unknown, we had 6 kits that did not make it past their first day (including two of Bunting’s litter).  However, the remaining 28 kits continue to thrive.

Bunting’s kits have reached the 21 day mark.  This is when we determine the sex of the kits and begin to weigh them weekly. All 4 of them are BOYS! Their weights range from 124-130 grams which is above average for 21 day old males.  At 23 days of age they are introduced to small carnivore meat.  Their eyes are still not opened, but they do have deciduous “baby” teeth.  They often do not eat the first few days, but are observed smelling the meat.

Bunting’s kits being introduced
to meat at 23 days of age.