You may remember our December 2009 dispatch by Candace Savage and Jo-Anne McArthur on the return of the black-footed ferret to Saskatchewan's Grasslands National Park after a 70 year absence.
Due to poisoning of their food source - burrowing prairie dogs - and the habitat they created, the black-footed ferret population in Canada went extinct altogether in 1937. It was only after a small group of seven ferrets were found in Wyoming in 1985 that attempts to restore their populations began.
In October 2009, 34 black-footed ferrets were released into the Grasslands park, near the Montana border. But before being set loose, the ferrets had to brace a rigorous "boot camp" in Colorado where their hunting abilities were tested and their natural instincts gauged to assure they could survive outside captivity in wild, predatory environments.
Well, good news. Last Tuesday the Canadian Minister for the Environment, Jim Prentice, announced that "for the first time in Canada in over 70 years, the black-footed ferrets are enjoying a prairie springtime in their new grasslands home."
Once the rarest of all North American mammals, the ferrets were monitored for 10 nights by 16 volunteers, collectively contributing 975 volunteer hours. A total of 12 of the 34 ferrets released in October were successfully located. The animals are notoriously elusive, and experts consider these to be good results, based on average survival rates in the wild.
Steve Forrest, a specialist in restoration science with the World Wildlife Fund, called the ferrets' snappy adaptation to their new Saskatchewan prairie digs "heartening," adding that, "it’s a great result for the whole recovery team."