The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) lost a senior male black-footed ferret following a routine procedure Wednesday, April 6. Staff were assessing whether the male was reproductively ready for the 2016 breeding season. Initial necropsy information indicates that the black-footed ferret developed sepsis from a small perforation in the colon which occurred from the procedure.
The male, born in 2012, was not genetically valuable, but it is important to assess the quantity and quality of semen prior to pairing males with females. Eight years ago, SCBI scientists determined that just because black-footed ferret males appear to be reproductively ready based on manual palpation of testes, they may not actually be producing sufficient quantities of semen. Additionally, a number of black-footed ferrets do not breed because of behavioral incompatibility or improper breeding positioning so this annual assessment of semen characteristics also provides an opportunity for animal managers to work with scientists on freezing semen for future assisted reproductive techniques (artificial insemination).
Reproductive technologies are used routinely at the six different breeding facilities located throughout North America for management including: checking male fertility before mating, overcoming infertility, and ensuring that every genetically valuable individual reproduces to maintain as much genetic diversity as possible. SCBI's black-footed ferret colony has allowed scientists to study the biology of the black-footed ferret to enhance reproduction, maintain genetic diversity, and provide animals for reintroduction to the western Great Plains. Black-footed ferrets are classified as endangered on the IUCN red list.