The sun is beautiful in Denver. Locals tells us that is is sunny 300 days of the year here. A contrast to our usually gray winters in Kentucky. We got an early start for the 90 min. drive to the Fort Collins National Black-footed Ferret (bff) Recovery Center in Fort Collins, CO. This is the place that all six managed system breeding centers in the country send their ferrets to for conditioning (more on that in a moment).
We arrive to 40 acres of beautiful prairie. Everywhere we see little heads bopping, darting and disappearing – the famous prairie dogs. I tried to think of something from home to make a connection and they are so unique I couldn’t come up with anything. Almost as far as the eye can see prairie dogs moving about all over and, of course, their famous burrows.
We start our day off with skyping against the Rockies! How is that for a backdrop. No CGI here. It was the real thing and also the front yard of the National BFF recovery center. John and Guy skype with 7th graders from Highland middle School. They asked great questions and when John turned the tables and asked them why they thought this work with BFFs was important and as a group they agreed “so the bffs don’t go extinct”. The kids also cited prairie dog population maintenance.
Robyn Bortner, the National Centers’ site manager who lives on campus and whose view out her front door is the Rockies joined John and Guy skyping with the students.
Robyn gave us a tour of the facility after our skype session. The impressive amount of pre-conditioning pens in the back house the ferrets as they go through boot camp before being released in the wild. The release we attended last night was the final one of the season and so there were only a handful of bff’s onsite, the rest have been released through the season. Those left were breeders mainly, though there was one ferret who failed boot camp and another who just didn’t want to leave (he wouldn’t come out of his pen). Boot camp get the bff’s acclimated to the outdoor conditions they will live in and prepares them for hunting their primary prey. Did you know their prey – prairie dogs – outweigh the ferrets.
Robyn also showed us some traps they use to prepare them for release and also in the wild sometimes they recapture them to revaccinate.
Special thanks to our gracious hosts Robyn and Julie Lyke (also with USFWS).
Next stop the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery to look at their bff public exhibit to research for a possible model for our own.