The black-footed ferret was thought extinct until 1981 when it was discovered on a Wyoming ranch by a dog named Shep. The Black-footed ferret, also known as the American polecat or prairie dog hunter, is a species of mustelid native to central North America. The black-footed ferret is roughly the size of a mink and is similar in appearance to the European polecat and the Asian steppe polecat. Black-footed ferrets are one of the most endangered mammals in North America and are the only ferret species native to the continent. Their recovery in the wild signifies the health of the grassland ecosystem which they depend on to survive.


Wyoming is on the western edge of Black-footed Ferret's historic range 6. The Black-footed Ferret lives exclusively in prairie dog colonies. Historical habitats of the black-footed ferret included shortgrass prairie, mixed-grass prairie, desert grassland, shrub steppe, sagebrush steppe, mountain grassland, and semi-arid grassland. Black-footed ferrets use prairie dog burrows for raising young, avoiding predators, and thermal cover.

Habitat loss and non-native disease threaten the recovery of the black-footed ferret. The ferret is entirely dependent on the presence of prairie dogs and their colonies for food, shelter and raising young. Without ample reintroduction sites and protection from plague, full black-footed ferret recovery remains difficult.


Black-footed ferrets spend about 90 percent of their time underground, where they eat, sleep and raise their young in prairie dog burrows. They are nocturnal and leave their burrows at night to hunt.

Black-footed ferret young, called kits, are born blind and helpless and stay below ground until they are about two months old. At two months old, the female begins to take her young on hunting forays and separates the kits into different burrows. By around five or six months old, the young are completely independent and will disperse to their own territories. Mating Season: March-April Gestation: 41-43 days. Kits are born in May-June Litter size: 3-4 kits average; ranges from 1-7 kits