Quirks & Quarks

Saving the Endangered Black-footed Ferret

A store of cryogenically frozen sperm is being used to help build up the tiny population of endangered ferrets and maintain its genetic diversity as part of a 30 year program of recovery.

Continuing efforts to maintain the endangered animals through artificial insemination

Black-footed ferret kits born at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in 2013. (Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, cc-by-nc-nd 2.0)
Listen8:58
The black-footed Ferret - native to North America - is a critically endangered species. There are only about 300 in zoos, and an estimated 300 to 400 in the wild.

There have been many efforts over the past 30 years to save the black-footed ferret, but the latest research has given scientists a little more hope. One is Dr. Rachel Santymire, the Director of the Davee Center for Endocrinology and Epidemiology at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.

She and her team have found success by artificially inseminating ferrets with long-stored frozen sperm. Recently, eight kits were born using sperm that had been frozen as much as 20 years ago, which is significant because it increases the genetic diversity of the species. It is hoped that this process could be applied to other endangered species.

Related Links

- Paper in Animal Conservation
- Smithsonian National Zoo release
Black-footed Ferret Recovery Program
- Lincoln Park Zoo release
Toronto Zoo Black-footed Ferret Conservation Recovery Program