Their habitat once stretched across the Prairies, but when humans wiped out the one thing they eat, the black-footed ferret disappeared. The only native North American ferret, this mysterious animal became the most endangered species in the world. For many years, they survived only in zoos. Now a fledgling project is attempting to bring the black-footed ferret back to Saskatchewan. This dramatic story of the ferrets’ reintroduction to the wild unfolds in Return of the Prairie Bandit, a new documentary by Kenton Vaughan set in the stunning prairie of southern Saskatchewan.
The black-footed ferret, characterized by its ritualistic-like dance, lives on a single diet -- prairie dogs. The once ubiquitous prairie dog was hunted and poisoned until it nearly vanished. Exit the black-footed ferret. At Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan, Canada’s last refuge for prairie dogs, the painstaking, precarious campaign to bring the ferret back is underway. Shot over the course of one year, Returnof the Prairie Bandit is a fascinating look at the ups and downs of this campaign set against the sweeping, stark beauty of the park.
The film charts the progress made by wildlife biologist Travis Livieri who is spearheading the black-footed ferret revival in North America. Alongside Parks Canada staff, he directs the release of the animal onto prairie dog colonies, and returns each season to check on their survival rate. At each turn, the ferrets face seemingly catastrophic challenges, from an unseasonably harsh winter to plague. (see behind the scenes shots from the park captured by a motion activated camera)
And ultimately this is more than a story of survival. For when it comes to recovering a nearly extinct species, survival is not enough. The ferrets need to breed and produce a new generation of their species, one born in the wild.
“As a prairie boy, I was fascinated to learn that there was long-forgotten prairie animal I had never heard of,” says Kenton Vaughan, who made Return of the Prairie Bandit. “I had also never seen native prairie so when I found out about the work going on at Grasslands, I jumped at the chance to document the effort there to bring the ferret back to the prairie.” Vaughan says that the film was challenging because of the difficulty locating the reclusive, subterranean ferret, but he was thrilled to discover the first wild born ferrets in Saskatchewan in over seventy years.