Once thought to be extinct, the discovery of a small colony of black-footed ferrets in Wyoming allowed the species to be repopulated and reintroduced across the country. On August 18th, 1994, the species made its grand re-entry into Badlands National Park.
Reduction in the prairie dog population was a large contributing factor for the demise of the black-footed ferret. Black-footed ferrets are heavily reliant on prairie dogs for their survival—the ferrets prey upon prairie dogs and also use their burrows as shelter. When prairie dogs were ravaged by excessive plowing of the plains, disease and poisoning, black-footed ferrets fell victim as well.
A small colony of black-footed ferrets were discovered in Meeteetse, Wyoming in 1981 by a ranch dog. Eight of those ferrets were captured and successfully bred in captivity. The original colony also helped to reintroduce over 1,000 ferrets across 19 sites in the west, including Badlands National Park.
In the Conata Basin—just south of Badlands National Park—a bout of sylvatic plague decimated both the prairie dog and ferret populations in 2008. The disease killed approximately 100 of the 290 ferrets in the basin, as well as nearly all of the prairie dogs. While much work remains to be done to ensure the health and proliferation of the black-footed ferret, numerous efforts are currently in place to protect the population well into the future.
To read more about environment and conservation issues in the Black Hills, visit the Black Hills Knowledge Network’s online news archive.