BFF Blog #3: Releasing Ferrets

We arrived in Holly, Colorado around 3:30 p.m. Mountain time. We pulled off the main road and made our way down the long drive way to Cathcart Ranch. Just before arriving at the private ranch we had made one stop to meet several other USFWS officials who were heading to Southern Holly to take the remaining 14 ferrets to a nearby site. At the Ranch, we were greeted by the two smiling faces of our hosts for the evening and convened with several other guests of the family who had also just arrived. While we played with the two ranch dogs, we made a plan about where to release the 16 black-footed ferrets (BFF) that were entrusted to our group.

Our caravan of four trucks drove a few miles deep into the ranch alongside a spectacular sunset. As dusk grew our USFWS guides searched for good prairie dog holes that were free of brush and cobwebs. We reached our first destination and released a male and female ferret there. Our lovely hosts released three.

bff_03The moment Guy Graves was looking forward to (see first post) had arrived. Guy knelt down and swung open the door of the sky kennel and… the litte BFF just didn’t want to go! Guy laughed and reminded us that with animals things don’t always go as planned. We laughed and listened to the bark of the ferret trying to determine if she wanted to go. After a short while — Success — she scurried down the hole!

The USFWS folks like to spread the BFFs out about 250 feet apart to start. (The ferrets will spread themselves out further later on.) We walked some more to find another prairie dog hole for John Walczak’s ferret. John was most looking forward to seeing the ferret poke its head out of the hole as he’d seen in so many photos. He received his wish. He swung the door open and his ferret to spent a moment figuring out what she wanted to do. Then, in a blink of an eye — she’s was gone. A mere moment later she popped her head out as if to say goodbye, then back into the hole she went and and we didn’t see her again.

bff_04As we continued to release the ferrets, the sun set and we were in complete darkness.  Most ferret releases go quickly — but this one took time. One tricky ferret had zoomed out of his crate and would not stay in his chosen hole. He popped in and out, again and again. Then he decided to wander. Very soon the prairie would be roaming ground for coyotes, badgers and other predators of black-footed ferrets. We all cheered the ferret on so that he would stay in his hole.

I helped release the final ferret with John. She went right into her new hole and was a nice cap to our night. I was grateful for the opportunity and will remember it forever.

Favorite moments from the release? Both John and Guy treasured seeing our host family release their first ferrets and watching them make the connection as to why this event was so important. These connections are paramount for conservation to succeed.

By the end of the night, 13 of us released 16 ferrets onto the Cathcart Ranch. This was the first time ferrets had been released at this location and this will be the final release of the season for USFWS.

So what’s next for the ferrets? They will be getting used to their new Cathcart ranch digs and hunting! Graves and Walczak explained that ferrets are solitary animals that will spread out based on the prairie dogs available which are the black-footed ferrets sole source of food. Prairie dogs live in colonies, so ferrets will spread themselves out further or closer together based on the source of prairie dogs. BFFs have to kill one prarie dog every three days to survive.

What’s next for us? The Fort Collins BFF museum and a Skype session with Louisville Zoo students participating in the School at the Zoo program.