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Another Species Makes a Comeback

August 2nd, 2016 by Park County Travel Council | Be the first to comment!

One of my favorite weasels has returned home to Buffalo Bill’s Cody/Yellowstone Country.

That’s right, some 35 black-footed ferrets were just released on two ranches near one of my favorite towns. Meeteetse (“Today is brought to you by the letter combination ‘ee’”) is known for its cowboy chocolatier and the old bank that never was robbed because Butch Cassidy kept his money there.

It’s also the closest town to the Lazy BV ranch where in 1981 a dog named Shep showed up with a dead animal. Ranch owner John Hogg contacted the authorities because this dead animal was so unusual. It turns out this was a black-footed ferret that many wildlife biologists thought had gone extinct.

Over the next five years, biologists rounded up the ferrets and started a captive breeding program near Fort Collins, Colorado.

As ferret populations have grown, wildlife biologists have released them in groups at 24 sites throughout the American West and in Canada and Mexico. I first saw one of these sites in Badlands National Park, and I am so happy that they are now closer to home.

In a way, this is a homecoming for the ferrets. Those 35 critters have been released on the Lazy BV ranch and the nearby Pitchfork ranch.

A black-footed ferret.

The black-footed ferret was thought to be extinct until 1981.

The ferrets do well in areas where prairie dogs are common. Prairie dogs are not canines. Rather they are rodents who burrow into the ground and spend most of their days looking around and yelling to each other when there is potential danger.

Well, the black-footed ferret actually will live in prairie dog burrows and feed on them. Since prairie dog burrows are dangerous to horses that can easily break a leg stepping in one, ranchers are happy for the ferrets’ return.

A black-footed ferret in front of a burrow.

Ferrets use burrows of other ground creatures.

Prairie dog colonies are common here in the West, so the ferrets have plenty of room in which to prosper.

Our area has seen its share of wildlife conservation successes. I recently shared my thoughts on our new “National Mammal” and how the bison was saved in Yellowstone National Park. Now, we have a legitimate claim for helping to save the black-footed ferret.

Baby black-footed ferrets

Thanks to breeding programs, the black-footed ferret population is on the rise.

Do you think we could convince Congress to name the ferret our “National Weasel?”

Until next week, I am lovin’ life in “Ferretville USA” – Meeteetse, Wyo.


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