The difficult path to recover black-footed ferrets

The black-footed ferret is considered the rarest mammal in North America. ©Ryan Haggerty

Why has it been so challenging to reintroduce the black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes)? Efforts continue throughout the West, but establishing populations has been difficult. The wild population had nearly reached 1,000 a decade ago, but that number has since been cut in half.

“When we started out with ferrets, I thought, ‘Boy, this is such a simple system — ferrets are just totally dependent on prairie dogs and it’s a pretty closed system. It’s just something we should be able to gain an understanding of fairly quickly,’” Dean Biggins, a research wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, told Undark. “Every question we answer regarding how the system functions leads to 10 more questions,” he said. “It’s amazingly complex.”

Read more on the efforts to bring back the black-footed ferret in Undark.