Two years ago, The Nature of Things debuted 'Return of the Prairie Bandit', a film about the re-introduction of the black-footed ferret at Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan, a species that had long been considered extinct. We wondered how the ferrets were doing.
Adrian Sturch, Manager of Resource Conservation at Grasslands tells us that the wild ferret population at the park is considered stable, "The last time we counted, in the summer of 2012, we found 12 ferrets in the park, three of which have survived from the initial release of 34 ferrets in 2009." Ferrets have a short life span - a maximum number of three years in the wild. More significantly, volunteer trackers found three new litters, a third generation of ferrets, indicating that they are reproducing at the park.
Since the first release, an additional 75 ferrets had been re-introduced to Grasslands coming from a network of breeding facilities including Toronto's Metro Zoo. "In this case, zoos have been absolutely essential to preserving the ferrets," says Sturch.
The species is still considered endangered and dependent on prairie dog populations, its sole source of food, for survival. The ferrets are affected by a general decline in prairie dog numbers at Grasslands because of drought, predators and the sylvatic plague - a bacterial disease. Ferrets released into the wild are vaccinated against the disease and efforts are under way to dust prairie dog burrows with pesticides that kill the plague-infected fleas.
It's estimated that there are now approximately 700 wild ferrets living in North America, about 20% of the goal set by the Black-Footed Ferret Recovery Program. Three thousand five hundred ferrets would be considered a self-sustaining population with enough genetic diversity to survive.
"What's important is that people are still engaged," says Sturch. Years after their re-introduction to Grasslands, volunteers and partners are committed to seeing the black-footed ferret thrive in Canada.