LARAMER COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — The black-footed ferret is widely regarded as the most endangered animal in North America, with less than 500 in the wild today.
On Friday, that number grew by a few as Colorado Parks and Wildlife released five more ferrets into the Larimer County prairie.
“I will admit, I still get goosebumps every now and then,” Tina Jackson, a species conservation coordinator for CPW, said. “And part of that is that we did think they were extinct at one point.”
CPW is leading a charge to reintroduce the ferrets to their native Colorado habitat.
In the 1970s, the ferrets were long believed to be extinct from North America until a dog found one on a farm in rural Wyoming.
“It’s an amazing story,” Jackson said. “The ranch dog brought this animal back to the house, and the owners were like, ‘What is this?'”
Wildlife officials were able to track that ferret to a small colony that was quickly disappearing. They captured a handful to breed in captivity.
Fast forward to today and CPW is celebrating its 500th ferret reintroduced to the wild.
It’s unclear how many of those are still alive, as the ferrets are extremely difficult to monitor.
“They’re very secretive animals, so they’re very hard to monitor,” Jackson said. “They live underground, they come out at night — these are all hard things for us.”
Friday’s reintroduction happened at the Soapstone Prairie Natural Area near the Wyoming border, where Fort Collins ecologists have seen success with the ferrets over the past few years.
“We’ve had wild-born kit reproduction there, so that means we’ve done reintroductions at that site, and there’s been animals that have held on and reproduced, and that’s what we’re going for,” wildlife ecologist Aran Meyer said.
The ferrets feed primarily on prairie dogs and live in the same burrow systems as their prey.
“As the prairie dogs go, so do the ferrets,” Meyer said.
CPW hopes to continue reintroducing the ferrets across the state, restoring at least a piece of Colorado’s former landscape.
“They’re here for a reason,” Jackson said. “This is a piece of the prairie landscape that should be out there.”