Great Plains Natural Science Society


The Prairie Naturalist

Date of this Version


Document Type



The Prairie Naturalist 39(2): June 2007, pp 99-104


Copyright © 2007 The Great Plains Natural Science Society


Despite over two decades of recovery efforts, the black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) remains one of the least understood and most critically endangered mammals in North America. Once extinct in the wild, over 2,400 captive-born individuals of black-footed ferret (hereafter referred to as ferret) have been released at 13 reintroduction sites ranging from northern Montana to Chihuahua, Mexico, since 1991. However, ferret populations currently are considered to be self-sustaining at only two sites in South Dakota and a single site in Wyoming (United States Fish and Wildlife Service 2006). To understand why ferret recovery is not succeeding at a majority of reintroduction sites, a better understanding of ferret behavior in the wild, particularly the behavior of reproductive females is needed. Ferrets are solitary carnivores that are adapted highly to live on prairie dog (Cynomys sp.) colonies. Prairie dogs compose a majority of their diet (Sheets et al. 1972, Campbell et al. 1987) and ferrets spend most of their lives underground in prairie dog burrow systems, with their above-ground activity typically occurring during the night (Clark et al. 1986, Richardson et al. 1987). The objectives of my study were to use multiple techniques to monitor above-ground activity of female ferrets to gain insight into their behavior in the wild, and to determine the efficiency of spotlight surveys at locating ferrets and effects of spotlighting on ferret behavior during the critical litter-rearing period.