Rare fer­rets set­tling in, mak­ing ba­bies at new Colorado home

A year in a wildlife refuge

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH -

Dozens of slinky, fe­ro­cious and rare fer­rets are set­tling in and mak­ing ba­bies at their new home in Colorado, one year af­ter they were re­leased at a wildlife refuge out­side Den­ver.

The US Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice counted 47 en­dan­gered black-footed fer­rets last month at the Rocky Moun­tain Arse­nal Na­tional Wildlife Refuge. That in­cludes 20 out of the orig­i­nal 28 cap­tive-born fer­rets that were re­leased there in 2015, a sur­vival rate of 71 per­cent. “Sev­enty-one per­cent is phe­nom­e­nal for sur­vival,” said Kim­berly Fraser, an out­reach spe­cial­ist for the fed­eral fer­ret pro­gram.

Searchers also found nearly two dozen fer­rets that were born at the refuge - a promis­ing sign for the cam­paign to bring the an­i­mals back from the brink of ex­tinc­tion. “Just see­ing the first one is an amaz­ing thing,” said David Lu­cas, the refuge man­ager. “And to see an­other, and an­other, and an­other .... It was higher than we ex­pected.” Here’s a look at black-footed fer­rets and an up­date on the pro­gram to save them:

About black-footed fer­rets

They are furry, weasel-like crit­ters that grow up to 2 feet long and 21/2 pounds. They mainly eat prairie dogs. They’re na­tive to the West, from Canada to Mex­ico, but their num­bers plum­meted as prairie dogs were ex­ter­mi­nated or died from plague, and fer­ret habi­tat was re­duced by de­vel­op­ment.

Black-footed fer­rets were once thought to be ex­tinct, but a small colony was dis­cov­ered in Wy­oming in 1981. Re­searchers have been try­ing to re­store the pop­u­la­tion since then. They’re pro­tected un­der the En­dan­gered Species Act.

How many are left?

About 300 live in the wild at 28 rein­tro­duc­tion sites in Ari­zona, Colorado, Kansas, Mon­tana, New Mex­ico, South Dakota, Utah and Wy­oming, and in the Cana­dian prov­ince of Saskatchewan and the Mex­i­can state of Chi­huahua. Nine were re­leased last week at Wind Cave Na­tional Park, South Dakota.

An­other 300 cap­tive-born fer­rets are be­ing pre­pared for re­lease at six breed­ing cen­ters. Black-footed fer­rets have been re­leased twice at Rocky Moun­tain Arse­nal Wildlife Refuge, in Oc­to­ber 2015 and Septem­ber of this year. While the 2015 fer­rets are do­ing well, teams found only five of 15 re­leased this year.

Re­searchers say they’re not wor­ried. The 2016 fer­rets were re­leased into the same prairie dog colony as the 2015 group be­cause re­searchers didn’t re­al­ize how many survivors were still there. Some new­com­ers might have moved to less crowded ter­ri­tory and eluded the coun­ters last month, Lu­cas said. How do you count fer­rets? Teams searched for 10 nights at the Colorado refuge last month, us­ing lights to spot the tell­tale emer­ald re­flec­tion from the fer­rets’ night-vi­sion eyes.

Once they lo­cated fer­rets, searchers placed elon­gated, burlap-cov­ered traps over their bur­rows. Be­cause the traps re­sem­bled part of the bur­row, the nat­u­rally cu­ri­ous fer­rets climbed in. Searchers could dis­tin­guish cap­tive-born fer­rets from those born at the refuge be­cause ID chips were im­planted in cap­tive-born an­i­mals be­fore their re­lease.

The wild-born fer­rets were vac­ci­nated for plague, ca­nine dis­tem­per and ra­bies, im­planted with a chip and turned loose again. Cap­tive-born fer­rets had been vac­ci­nated be­fore they were orig­i­nally re­leased at the refuge.

How many is enough?

The Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice has a goal of 3,000 breed­ing adult fer­rets in at least 30 pop­u­la­tions in at least nine states. At the Rocky Moun­tain Arse­nal refuge, the goal is about 77 to 120 fer­rets, said Nick Kac­zor, as­sis­tant man­ager of the refuge.

What’s next

The Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice plans to re­lease about 20 more fer­rets at the Rocky Moun­tain Arse­nal refuge, but no date has been set, Lu­cas said. The next re­lease will be in a dif­fer­ent part of the refuge.

If the refuge colony thrives, some fer­rets born there could be moved to bol­ster pop­u­la­tions in other states be­cause they’ve shown they can sur­vive in the wild. “Those wild-born ones, man, they were feisty, they were ag­gres­sive,” Kac­zor said. “You can tell they have that fight­ing in­stinct.”

—AFP pho­tos

MAR­RAKECH, Morocco: Mem­bers of In­ter­na­tional del­e­ga­tions pose for a group photo out­side the COP22 cli­mate con­fer- ence on yes­ter­day, in Mar­rakesh.

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