Black-footed Ferret Conservation Recovery Program
The Toronto Zoo has been involved in the recovery program for the endangered black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) since 1992. Since then, the Toronto Zoo has produced hundreds of baby ferrets (kits) and has reintroduced animals to prairie habitat in the United States, Mexico and Canada. Genetically valuable animals are kept in the Species Survival Plan program for future breeding. This program is a high priority for the Zoo as we attempt to re-establish black-footed ferret populations across North America. Autumn 2009 marked the first Canadian release of black-footed ferrets into the wild -- the crowning achievement of the Canadian recovery program.
In Canada, the black-footed ferret historically ranged in the western Prairies (southern Alberta to southern Saskatchewan) but was listed as extirpated in 1978. The area in and around Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan contains the largest black-tailed prairie dog population in Canada and the prairie dog is protected within the park. Since the prairie dog is the primary prey of black-footed ferrets, this site is ideal for ferret reintroductions.
In 2003, the Toronto Zoo spearheaded black-footed ferret recovery in Canada and in 2004, in partnership with Parks Canada, US Fish & Wildlife Service, the Calgary Zoo, private stakeholders and other organizations, a joint Black-footed Ferret/Black-tailed Prairie Dog Recovery Team was established to set up the reintroduction of black-footed ferrets into Canada. As a result of extensive planning, 34 ferrets were released on to Canadian soil on October 2, 2009. Grasslands National Park now supports Canada’s first wild population of black-footed ferrets since they disappeared from the country several decades ago.
Since the reintroduction, frequent monitoring sessions take place to examine the threats to black-footed ferrets, monitor how populations are doing in the wild and to determine if and when the wild population needs to be supplemented with additional animals. Supported by the Canadian Wildlife Federation and the Toronto Zoo Endangered Species Reserve Fund, Toronto Zoo staff have participated in post-release monitoring sessions. Teams conduct nighttime surveys during which researchers use high-powered spotlights to detect the ferrets’ distinctive green eyeshine as they poke their heads out of their burrows. Once seen, researchers place circular microchip readers over the burrow entrances so that the ferrets' previously-implanted microchips are scanned the next time they exit the burrow. This research has revealed an excellent winter survival rate as a number of released ferrets are relocated each year.
Other monitoring sessions focus on trapping as many ferrets as possible to check the health status of adults and to vaccinate and implant microchips into any new wild-born kits. Amazingly, yearling BFF kits have been seen during these session -- the first Canadian-born kits in over 70 years. Yearly monitoring continues to track the survival of released animals.
Reintroducing the black-footed ferret into Canada is of great conservation significance as we established a population in the species’ most northern historical range. By reintroducing an extirpated species back into the Canadian prairies, the Toronto Zoo and its many partners have proven that species-at-risk recovery programs can be successful. Along with our international collaborators, we are very excited and hopeful for the continued recovery of the Canadian black-footed ferret population.
- Toronto Zoo has bred hundreds of black-footed ferrets for reintroduction to the wild in USA, Mexico & Canada.
- Toronto Zoo partners with Parks Canada, US Fish & Wildlife Service, the Calgary Zoo, private stakeholders and other organizations, for black-footed ferret recovery efforts in Canada.
- First Canadian black-footed ferret release took place October 2, 2009 in Grasslands National Park. 75 captive-bred ferrets were reintroduced.
- Toronto Zoo staff have assisted Parks Canada staff in black-footed ferret releases and monitoring.
- Other monitoring sessions focus on capturing ferrets to check the health status of adults and to vaccinate and implant microchips into any new wild-born kits. Funded by the Canadian Wildlife Federation and the Toronto Zoo Endangered Species Reserve Fund, Toronto Zoo staff members have participated in these monitoring sessions since 2010.
How You Can Help Save Black-footed Ferrets
- Adopt a black-footed ferret by calling 416-392-9114 or visiting www.wildlifeconservancy.ca/adopt
- Come out to the Zoo and find out more about the black-footed ferret and other endangered species the Toronto Zoo is working to save. Spread the word about what you have learned.
- Donate to conservation either financially or volunteer for various conservation organizations.
You can find out more about volunteer opportunities assisting in monitoring wild black-footed ferrets in Grasslands National Park at the following link - https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/sk/grasslands/activ/benevolat-volunteer