Disease nearly wiped out the black-foot ferrets in 1985. With only 18 surviving Black-Footed Ferrets two years later, biologists and researchers focused their efforts on a captive-breeding program in hopes to bring back their numbers. After a tough start the recovery program has shown promising results. It's been 25 years and around 500 black-footed ferrets are living wild in six U.S. states and one state in Mexico. Another 350 are surviving in captivity.
These ferrets are one of the most endangered mammals on the planet. One of the greatest threats to the black-footed ferrets, besides funding, is the lack of prairie dog inhabited land. These ferrets are extremely specific when it comes to food, and you guessed it – they only eat prairie dogs. This is quite a problem as black-tailed prairie dogs can't even find safety on federal land. Political pressure and rancher's complaints pushed the U.S. Forest Service to poison the animals on 3,000 acres in the Conata Basin in South Dakota's Buffalo Gap National Grassland.
Another threat to the successful reintroduction of black-footed ferrets includes their lack of natural immunities against sylvatic plague, a disease spread by fleas. Prairie dogs are also susceptible to this disease. As it can decimate huge numbers recovery is still not guaranteed, but those spearheading the recovery are optimistic like U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) biologist Mike Lockhart. "Twenty-five years ago, we were given a second chance and we have made tremendous headway toward recovery. It would be such a waste if we fail now,” says Lockhart.
"Black-Footed Ferret Recovery" (National Wildlife Federation)