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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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North Dakota's Endangered and Threatened Species

Black-Footed Ferret
Mustela nigripes

JPG -- Picture and Range Map of Species

Status: Endangered

Black-footed ferrets are 20"-24" long, including a 6" tail, and weigh up to 2 1/2 pounds. They have a yellowish-brown body with a distinctive black mask across the face, and black on the feet and the tip of the tail. The related long-tailed weasel is about half the size of the ferret and does not have the distinctive black markings. The weasel is quite common statewide and turns white during winter months.

Most of the Great Plains was once home to the black-footed ferret. The last known population in the wild was found at Meeteetse, Wyoming, in 1981 and included 18 animals. These individuals were trapped and bred in captivity until 1991 when 49 were reintroduced into the wild in Wyoming. In 1994, 40 ferrets were released in Montana and 36 into South Dakota.

JPG -- Long-tailed Weasel picture

The southwestern part of North Dakota was home to the ferret historically because prairie dogs were abundant. Prairie dogs comprise about 90 percent of this mammal's diet. A family of four will consume an average of 763 prairie dogs per year. They also utilize prairie dog burrows for shelter and raising young.

The rapid decline of the black-footed ferret has been linked to the eradication of the prairie dog in the wake of intense farming and grazing. Prairie dogs now occupy less than 1 percent of their historic range. Other species such as burrowing owls, swift fox, badgers, golden eagles, and prairie falcons rely heavily upon prairie dog towns for food and shelter.

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