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Black-Footed Ferret


Black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes)

Principal Biologist(s)

Dustin Long

Project Location

Vermejo Park Ranch, NM; Bad River Ranches, SD

Conservation Problem

The near extinction of black-footed ferrets was a direct result of the range-wide decline of their primary prey item—prairie dogs (Cynomys spp.). Prairie dog conservation remains the primary challenge in black-footed ferret recovery. The range-wide loss of prairie dogs, and by extension the black-footed ferret, is attributable to:

  • Non-native disease—sylvatic plague (Yersinia pestis)
  • Loss of habitat and habitat fragmentation
  • Human persecution

Conservation Status

The black-footed ferret is federally listed as endangered.

  • The black-footed ferret was first listed as endangered throughout its historic range in 1967 under the Endangered Species Preservation Act—the predecessor to the more robust Endangered Species Act (ESA). Once the ESA was passed in 1973, the species was moved to that list where it remains today.
  • The black-footed ferret was listed as an endangered species under the New Mexico Wildlife Conservation Act in 1975, but was removed from this list in 1988 after survey efforts indicated that the species was likely extirpated in the state. Today the species is categorized as a protected furbearer, although no legal harvest has been allowed since the 1960’s.
  • In South Dakota the black-footed ferret is a Species of Greatest Conservation Need and is designated as a state listed endangered species.

Project Goals & Objectives

Turner Endangered Species Fund’s (TESF) longstanding goal has been to work with state and federal agencies and other partners in meeting downlisting criteria for the species. The most recent (2013) black-footed ferret recovery plan which includes downlisting and delisting criteria can be found here:


To achieve downlisting or delisting goals, the very specific habitat requirements of ferrets must be met: develop and protect large disease-free prairie dog complexes.


Project Background