Black-Footed Ferret Recovery

Science  12 May 2000:
Vol. 288, Issue 5468, pp. 985-988
DOI: 10.1126/science.288.5468.985

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The black-footed ferret, indigenous to the western United States, was believed to be extinct by the 1970s after a precipitous decline in its main food source, prairie dogs. The accidental discovery of a remnant colony of black-footed ferrets in Wyoming 20 years ago prompted the launch of an ambitious captive breeding program to save this species. As Dobson and Lyles discuss in a Perspective, the combined efforts of veterinarians, zoologists, ecologists and wild-life managers, not to mention 35 private and government agencies, has resulted in a remarkable comeback for this sleek carnivore. Through aggressive captive breeding programs and prerelease behavioral conditioning, the release of captive ferrets to their original habitats in the Rocky Mountains has resulted in the seeding of four wild breeding colonies. But the ultimate success of this ambitious project will depend on sustaining sufficiently large colonies of prairie dogs that constitute the black-footed ferret's exclusive prey.