Preconditioning

Preconditioning is an important pre-cursor to reintroducing captive bred black-footed ferrets into the wild. Ferrets are placed in outdoor pens for a minimum of 30 days. While in these pens, they are exposed to natural burrow systems and have the opportunity to encounter live prairie dogs. Most preconditioning is conducted at the National Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center in Colorado.

All ferret kits that are candidates for reintroduction are placed in a pen with their littermates and/or their dam. Kits are large enough to kill a prairie dog on their own at about 90 days of age. At about 120 days old, they are ready to naturally disperse from their family group, which is the opportune time to release them into the wild.

During preconditioning, ferrets are protected from predation while gaining experience killing prairie dogs. Before being released, they are vaccinated against canine distemper virus and plague. Preconditioning significantly increases a black-footed ferret’s chance of survival in the wild. Since 1996, all ferrets that have been reintroduced have gone through this management stage.

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