The Smithsonian National Zoo's conservation facility has announced that it has broken its previous record in the number of both Black-footed Ferret litters and total kits born this year. A total of twelve litters, fifty kits, have been born to the Conservation Biology Institute since just May 7, 2010, with all but one surviving. These ferrets only go into heat once a year, so intricate breeding plans are crucial. Approximately 500 Black-footed Ferrets have been born to the Smithsonian Zoo's conservation center since they first received a handful of the creatures in 1988. The ferrets born throughout this year so far are going to be entering the National Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center, with the hopes of educating them and releasing them into the wild.
Black-footed Ferrets are an endangered mammal, ranging throughout central North America. The small animals have been considered endangered in the US since 1967, with only one known population by 1985. In 1985, the last of the species were taken into captivity to attempt breeding. Breeding and reintroduction to the wild have both been incredibly successful, with the 18 captured ferrets leading to a current estimated world population of 1,000, with 750 existing in the wild.
The Black-footed Ferret's decline was due in part to its strong dependency on prairie dogs. The ferrets eat approximately 100 prairie dogs each year, and shelter in their burrows after eating. As prairie dog populations waned due to habitat destruction and their reputation as a nuisance to farmers, Black-footed Ferret populations followed. Diseases had also spread among both of the species, with prairie dogs contracting both bubonic plague and monkeypox. The ferret breeding and releasing programs have drastically strengthened their numbers. Prairie dogs are also experiencing new conservation efforts, including education to farmers that their benefits outweigh their costs, and transportation of healthy colonies into areas with sparse populations.