Thanks to recent Colorado legislation, black-footed ferrets, a mammal once thought to be extinct, may soon have a second chance to thrive in their natural habitat.
On September 3, a group of 15 black-footed ferrets were released into 48,500 acres of Fort Collins public open space in the Soapstone Prairie Natural Area.
In May, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed HB 14-1267, a house bill that allows cities and counties to reintroduce populations of the endangered animal into the wild.
Proponents of the bill believe releasing groups of black-footed ferrets into acceptable environments may create a self-sustaining population. They hope the ferrets will eat at least one prairie dog a week, an estimate based on the species’ diet in captivity.
Black-footed ferrets, natural nocturnal predators of prairie dogs, were once deemed extinct in the 1980s.
When a small population was found in Wyoming, 18 black-footed ferrets were captured and successfully bred in captivity. Now, several hundred exist in captivity throughout the U.S.
Fort Collins is the first city to reintroduce the ferrets into the wild since the signing of the bill.
Eleven other states plan on releasing groups of the animal into natural environments.
Collegian Reporter Erick Plattner can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @ErickPlattner.