The black-footed ferret
is a member of the weasel family (Mustelidae), and its nearest relatives are weasels and minks. Black-footed ferrets have a black mask across the face, brownish head, black feet and legs, and a black tip on the tail.
Ferrets eat prairie dogs and live in prairie dog burrows. They typically hunt during the night. They have one litter of four to five young ("kits") each year, and the kits are dependent on their mother for the first four months.
Ferrets were once found throughout the Great Plains, from Texas to southern Saskatchewan, Canada. Their range extended from the Rocky Mountains east through the Dakotas and south through Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Where prairie dogs were found, so were black-footed ferrets. Today, the black-footed ferret has been reintroduced into parts of their former range in Wyoming, South Dakota, Montana, and Arizona. They are also found in Nebraska, Colorado, and Utah.
The black-footed ferret is one of the most endangered mammals in the United States. Their population has declined largely due to habitat conversion for farming and due to efforts to eliminate prairie dogs. Black-footed ferrets were listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1967, several years prior to the Endangered Species Act of 1973. A captive breeding program was begun in 1985, and the first ferret reintroduction took place in 1991. Complete details can be found at the Black-footed Ferret Recovery Program.