We also provide the ferrets with different types of play enrichment, which encourages them to stay active. Most of the toys are a product of keeper creativity since you cannot always buy items appropriate for endangered species. One popular enrichment is a paper bag filled with shredded paper. When a ferret approaches the bag to investigate, the bag will “respond” with a crinkle or fall over. We also have weeble-wobble toys and create bouncy tubes by upcycling old materials that our team no longer uses.
By far, our black-footed ferrets’ favorite enrichment seems to be live prey. In the wild, 90 percent of a black-footed ferret’s diet is prairie dogs. At SCBI, they receive rats. It is particularly important for a reintroduction animal to know how to hunt so they can survive without relying on humans. Female ferrets with kits typically get live prey so the kits learn to hunt from their mom just as they would in the wild.
The first few live rats given to a ferret family are usually hunted by the mom while the kits sleep or observe. Last year, one of Lady Edith’s kits, Emily, approached the third live rat we gave the family. As this was Emily’s first encounter with a rat, she did not quite know what to do. She approached the rat and as she smelled it, the rat gently bopped her on the nose with its paw! Clearly startled, Emily ran back to her mom. Lady Edith then showed Emily and the other kits how to properly hunt. Two weeks later, I watched Emily correctly and successfully hunt a live rat on her own.