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The black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) was once widely distributed in the Great Plains and intermountain valleys of North America, its range overlapping the combined ranges of several species of prairie dogs (Cynomys spp.). Most life history information has been obtained from studies of ferrets in southwestern South Dakota (1964-1974) and studies near Meeteetse, Wyoming (1981-present). The ferret's nearly complete dependence on prairie dogs was documented in both study areas. The recent collapse of the Meeteetse population of ferrets due to an outbreak of canine distemper underscores the threat posed by this disease, but reductions of prairie dogs by man and other diseases are also potentially harmful. Eighteen animals are being held for captive breeding, no free-ranging ferrets have been located, and species recovery seems dependent on captive propagation and releases.