Black-footed ferret breeding program continues at Northwest Colorado site

Spring breeding efforts were successful at the Colorado-Utah black-footed ferret reintroduction site in Irish Canyon, north of Maybell.

In late June, the 11 females produced four litters of kits, or black-footed ferret young, with 13 kits. There had been five litters originally, but one litter died of unknown causes. Six male ferrets contributed to the effort.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) employees managing the program built nesting boxes for the birthing process. These boxes were placed below ground to simulate the black-footed ferrets' natural nesting habits. The boxes allowed access to the kits to determine the number and health of the animals. After 15 days the females were allowed to move their young into the prairie dog burrows they normally live in. Inside the pre-conditioning pens, the ferrets are also learning to capture their own food by feeding on live prairie dogs.

The black-footed ferrets will remain in the pre-conditioning pens until this fall. In October they will be released in Coyote Basin south of Dinosaur on the Utah-Colorado border. A few adults will be held for breeding purposes.

According to Charlene Bessken, wildlife biologist, "Fall is a natural release time for the ferrets, in nature the families disband in the fall and there is an abundance food, which are prairie dogs."

The Colorado-Utah Black-footed Ferret Reintroduction Project is a cooperative effort involving U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), BLM, Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) and Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR).

Considered the rarest mammal in North America, it was thought no black-footed ferrets were left in the wild until a small population was discovered on a ranch in Meeteese, Wyo. These animals were taken into captivity in 1986 and 1987 to protect them from an outbreak of canine distemper, a disease fatal to black-footed ferrets. Using these founder animals, the captive breeding program was begun.

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