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Since 1991, state and federal agencies, in cooperation with Native American tribes, private landowners, non-profit organizations, and the North American zoo community have reintroduced thousands of black-footed ferrets into the wild. Beginning in Wyoming, reintroduction efforts have expanded to eight states and three countries.
Currently, there are 21 black-footed ferret reintroduction sites. Black-footed ferrets have been released in Wyoming, South Dakota, Montana, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Kansas, New Mexico, Canada and Mexico. To date, there have been approximately 3,500 ferrets released in the wild.
Current numbers in the wild are encouraging, but more reintroduction sites are needed to recover the species. Today, approximately 500 individuals now live in the wild. Each year, 150-220 black-footed ferrets are preconditioned and reintroduced into the wild from the captive breeding population. Additionally, a number of wild born ferrets may be translocated from self-sustaining reintroduction sites to other sites in order to bolster their populations.
To monitor ferrets, scientists and volunteers conduct nighttime spotlight surveys. Black-footed ferrets have a brilliant green eyeshine that aids in locating them. In late summer, efforts are made to locate litters born in the wild. Biologist use live traps and transponder chip readers to identify individual ferrets. During winter, snow tracking surveys may be conducted to locate ferrets.
Ferrets have returned to state, federal, tribal and private lands. The biggest obstacle to ferret recovery today is lack of suitable reintroduction sites.