The Arizona Nature Conservation Center/Phoenix Zoo welcomed five more litters of highly endangered black-footed ferrets in May and June to its Elaine V. Johnson Conservation Center.
There are 21 baby ferrets, or kits, all born to mothers Akoya, Roseanne, Vermillion, Lady Mary and Canneles, and some will be identified as candidates for release into the wild.
According to Tara Harris, director of conservation and science at the Phoenix Zoo who oversees its breeding and recovery programs, there are only a few hundred animals living in the wild today.
The black-footed ferret is one of North America’s most endangered animals and was actually thought to be extinct, although it was rediscovered in 1981 in Wyoming, according to the Black-footed Ferret Connection. . It is one of only three species of ferrets in the world and the only species native to North America. The Black-footed Ferret Connection website says they were originally native to 12 US states, living in areas of short or mixed grass, but are now only found at reintroduction sites.
When they were rediscovered, biologists captured any remaining ferrets they could find and began breeding them, and all black-footed ferrets likely descend from just seven ancestors, according to Harris.
The Phoenix Zoo is one of six facilities worldwide that breed ferrets for reintroduction into the wild in an effort to save the species from extinction. He’s been breeding ferrets since 1992 and has produced more than 500 total ferrets in those 30 years, Harris said.
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Last year, 13 ferrets raised at the Phoenix Zoo were released into the wild in Colorado, according to a press release from the Phoenix Zoo. There are also reintroduction sites in Arizona and a total of 30 sites across the country, Harris said.
Later in August or September, Harris said they would begin identifying kits that would make good candidates for release. These kits will then go to a facility in Colorado for preconditioning.
“You can kind of think of it as a boot camp for black-footed ferrets where they go and have to learn all the survival skills they need to live in the wild,” Harris said.
Conditioning includes living outdoors in underground burrow systems, where they have the ability to hunt on their own, Harris said. If they complete the tasks necessary for survival in the wild, they will be released.
For now, the ferrets will stay with their mothers at the Johnson Conservation Center, and in the meantime, the zoo is asking for the public’s help in naming a litter of ferrets born to mom Canneles and dad Juniper. According to the press release, there are four kits to name and four themes to choose from.
The four themes are: Trees (Maple, Acacia, Cedar, and Willow), Avatar the Last Airbender (Kyoshi, Toph, Suki, and Azula), Norse Mythology (Freya, Eisa, Idunn, and Senua), and Evolutions of Pokémon Eevee (Espeon, Umbreon, Flareon and Jolteon).
To vote for a name theme, visit the zoo’s website. Voting is open until August 16, and the names of the winners will be announced on August 19, according to the press release.
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