Then and Now
Black-footed ferrets once lived in prairie dog colonies throughout the central and western grasslands of North America. Estimates place their historic numbers in the tens of thousands.
The widespread destruction of prairie dog colonies and the arrival of exotic diseases in the 1900s reduced prairie dogs by more than 95 percent over the last 150 years, and black-footed ferrets followed suit. By 1979 they were thought to be extinct.
Key Recovery Milestones
The black-footed ferret was listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as endangered in 1967.
In 1981 a single black-footed ferret colony was rediscovered near Meeteetse, Wyoming. By 1987 the last 18 were captured for a captive breeding program, and they were completely gone from the wild.
Reintroductions began in 1991 in Shirley Basin, Wyoming, and continued to other areas in future years. As of 2012, black-footed ferrets have been reintroduced to 19 sites. They are estimated to number between 750-1,000 in 17 of these sites (two have been abandoned), and another 350 or so in captive breeding facilities.