Wildlife officials are gushing with pride after spotting a litter of newborn black-footed ferrets in Saskatchewan's Grasslands National Park, a few months after the creature was reintroduced to the area.
"In the early hours of July 14, a playful litter of kits was observed," Parks Canada announced Wednesday. "The black-footed ferret mother and her three kits appeared healthy and engaged in honing their survival instincts."
The births even caught the notice of the federal environment minister, Jim Prentice, who was quoted in the release.
"The observation of wild-born ferrets is a tremendous cause for celebration," Prentice said.
The black-footed ferret is the only species of ferret indigenous to North America. Populations fell to near-extinction levels until a small colony was discovered in Wyoming in 1981. Those animals were used to begin the recovery program.
Grasslands National Park, in southwest Saskatchewan, was selected as a site for the reintroduction of the animal to its natural prairie habitat.
In October 2009, 34 ferrets were released. Parks Canada officials said Wednesday at least 12 of those survived the winter.
"Now, the discovery of the ferret kits is confirming how quickly the ferrets are adapting to their new home," officials said.
According to background material supplied by Parks Canada, the gestation period for the ferret is 1½ months.
Parks Canada and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are working with several zoos in Canada and the United States where black-footed ferrets are bred for reintroduction to various sites in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.