photo - head shot of black footed ferret, with variety of brownish/gray fur markings, face has white ring of fur around face, with a black mask over eyes, and white fur on muzzle and mouth, nose if black, black whiskers, show one black leg with claws, cute little fella

Black-Footed Ferret Conservation

Have you ever thought you had lost something precious forever?

It’s a scary thought — the idea of something being gone never to be found again. If by some stroke of luck, you did manage to find the thing you lost, you likely worked very hard to make sure you never lost it again!

This is the story of the black-footed ferrets. These black-masked little members of the weasel family were declared extinct in 1979 and considered lost to the world forever. Their numbers, once estimated at 500,000, had been decimated due to habitat destruction and the poisoning of prairie dogs (their primary prey).

Fortunately, in 1981, a shining moment of fortune appeared. A remnant population of ferrets was discovered in Meeteetse, Wyoming. However, this group of ferrets faced almost insurmountable odds when in 1985, there were outbreaks of canine distemper virus and sylvatic plague. With the population critically at risk, the last 18 black-footed ferrets were gathered and placed in a managed breeding program.

Now, through the intense efforts of a multi-institutional recovery program, the black-footed ferret population continues to improve. Your Louisville Zoo is one of the six organizations contributing to the revitalization of an entire species. The Zoo’s Conservation Center has produced over 1,000 kits since 1991 and provided over 700 ferrets for reintroduction to over 21 reintroduction sites across the Great Plains. This is no small feat by any standards in the world of conservation.

SAFE LogoTo add to these efforts, In January of 2018, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums formally announced that the black-footed ferret had been added to the international Saving Animals from Extinction® (SAFE) initiative. SAFE combines the expertise of Zoo and Aquarium professionals with conservation partners in the field to increase awareness about species and the importance of saving them through collective impact and public engagement. We are honored to be a part of such an important project. To bring a species back from the brink of extinction takes vigilance, skill, insight, lots of luck and an unwavering commitment by a community of caring individuals and supportive organizations. We are all so proud of this project and hopeful for the future of black-footed ferrets.

The Louisville recently made improvements to our black-footed ferret conservation center. New enclosures and with energy efficient LED lighting were installed by Zoo staff in December. Black-footed ferret breeding cycles are completely reliant on seasonal light cycles. This upgrade to LED lighting enhances the Zoo’s ability to ensure this species survival into the future.

Learn more about the national black-footed ferret efforts here.