Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
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.
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.