Image credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
42 years ago this week, North America’s only native ferret species got a second chance at survival.
Once widespread across the western plains of the U.S. and Canada, black-footed ferrets were thought to have gone extinct by 1979. Conservationists and scientists feared the ferrets was gone for good. However, on Sept. 26, 1981, an isolated population of this spunky species was discovered in a secluded corner of Wyoming prairie. With that exciting discovery, black-footed ferrets began their comeback — one of the most remarkable conservation stories on Earth. Carnivore curator Adrienne Crosier explains:
Throughout the spring and summer, thousands of online viewers tuned in to watch 1-year-old black-footed ferret Hickory and her kits on the Black-footed Ferret Cam. This September, on the 42nd anniversary of black-footed ferrets’ “Species Recovery Day”, carnivore keepers at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute have a big reason to celebrate: all six of Hickory’s kits have been transferred to the National Black-Footed Ferret Conservation Center (FCC) in Colorado for their preconditioning program!
Every August, our team at the at Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) in Front Royal, Virginia works with scientists from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to conduct their annual genetic assessment of the entire black-footed ferret population managed in human care. During this evaluation, they discussed whether Hickory’s six kits—who were born at SCBI—should remain with us, be transferred to another breeding facility, or join the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) preconditioning program, which prepares black-footed ferrets for their possible release into the wild.
And the results were clear: Hickory’s kits have a big opportunity to contribute to the future of their species in the wild. That’s why on Aug. 31, Hickory’s kits were transferred out of SCBI to start the next chapter of their lives! We hope they’ll do their part to help maintain a genetically diverse and self-sustaining population—two incredibly important details that help ensure the long-term survival of any animal, wild or no.