Image Credit: nps.gov
You don’t have to be a Ferret lover to appreciate this sweet creature, which has been brought back from the brink of extinction. Black Footed Ferrets were nearly wiped out back in the early 20th Century, when farmers got rid of their main food source: Prairie Dogs – which were tearing up farmland.
If you’re considering getting one of your own, think again – as it’s illegal to own an endangered species as a pet and you must obtain a permit for scientific research, which does not include home possession.
Black Footed Ferret Background
First discovered in 1851, the Black-Footed Ferret is also called American Polecat and their native habitat is central North America. Known as Prairie dog hunters, these ferrets have been listed as endangered by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) due to their low population.
These Ferrets are distinctive, due to the markings around their eyes, which look like a bandit’s mask. They have black feet, as their name suggests, and the rest of their bodies are a mix of tan and black. They have long bodies like weasels to help them squeeze into holes and small places.
Black-Footed Ferrets have short legs and large front paws with claws that they use for digging, as well as large eyes and ears. Their sizes range from 15 to 20 inches for their head and body, with their tails measuring up to 5 inches. They weigh up to 2.5 pounds and the males are slightly bigger than the females.
Status in the Wild
Over the last century, their decline has been related to the decrease in Prairie dogs, due to the efforts of farmers and ranchers (backed by Government control programs) as well as sylvatic plague, which is a bacterial disease that affects the Prairie dogs – a main source of food for the Black-Footed Ferret.
Declared extinct by 1979, they showed up again in 1981, when a woman’s dog brought back a dead specimen in Wyoming. Claimed to be extinct again in 1987, the Black Footed Ferret was brought back from the dead by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s captive breeding program.
The Black-Footed Ferret Today
In the wild, there are more than 1,000 of these Ferrets in 18 different populations, but their status was still declared as endangered in 2008. Unless breeding and raising litters, the Black Footed Ferret is usually solitary and nocturnal, and Prairie dogs make up to 91% of their diet.
Even though they will eat mice, squirrels and other rodents, Black-Footed Ferrets rely on Prairie dogs for their survival, hunting them down and taking over their burrows for shelter. These Ferrets are hunted themselves, by Coyotes, Owls and Golden Eagles, which makes them even more endangered.
Learn More About Wild Ferrets
These adorable creatures can be quite playful, especially when they’re young. They enjoy wrestling each other and performing what is called the “ferret dance”, which involves arching their backs and hopping backwards with their mouths open wide, especially when it’s feeding time.
They have an average lifespan of up to 12 years in captivity, if well cared for. Permits are strictly for governmental and scientific studies as well as preservation and breeding programs.
It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with local laws that cover endangered species, as their preservation and the conservation of their habitat helps us do the right thing when it comes to how we treat our environment and the creatures who depend on it.
Eating Habits of the Black Footed Ferret
With a high metabolic rate, Ferrets need large quantities of food in relation to the size of their bodies and these needs change with the seasons. Black-Footed Ferrets usually consume one Prairie dog every 3 – 4 days. As mentioned earlier, they will eat other small animals, lizards, insects and eggs.
These Ferrets are quite vocal, with a variety of peculiar sounds such as:
- Loud chattering used to alarm other members of their colony
- Hissing when agitated or fearful
- Whimpering sounds used by the mother Ferret to tell their young to follow
- Chortling during the mating season, performed by the males
In the wild, breeding usually starts around March and after 41 to 43 days of gestation, a litter known as a kit will arrive, with an average of 3 to 4 babies.
The female is the one who cares for her young, which develop rapidly, becoming active after their eyes open at around 35 days old.
Having a Ferret of Your Own
You will need to consider becoming a scientist or being involved in a Government or science program if you want to interact with a Black Footed Ferret, but you do have options if you want to bring a domesticated Ferret into your life.
You will need to prepare your home to ensure the best possible environment for your new addition to the family unit and you must be committed to their care, including financial considerations like taking into account how much Ferrets cost. Legally owing Ferrets depends on where you live, so make sure you check with local authorities before taking the plunge.
The domesticated Ferret has evolved from the European Polecat, which is a mammal that belongs to the same genus as the Weasel in the family known as Mustelidae. They come in a wide variety of patterns and 8 basic colors such as:
- Albino: white or cream-colored with pink eyes and nose
- Black: white undercoat with black guards, black eyes and dark brown or speckled nose
- Black sable: same as sable but with dark brown eyes and a black or speckled nose
- Champagne: light to burgundy eyes, beige or pink nose with tan guard hairs
- Chocolate: brown or burgundy eyes, beige, red or pink nose with chocolate guard hair
- Cinnamon: white undercoat, beige, red or pink nose with reddish-brown guard hair
- Dark-eyed White: black to burgundy eyes with a white/cream body
- Sable: white or cream with brown guard hairs, black eyes and T-shaped speckles on the nose
Consider buying a domestic specimen by adopting a rescue Ferret if you would love to have one of these beautiful creatures as a pet!