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12:40 PM Tue, Dec. 18th

Help sought for biannual spotlighting black-footed ferrets

KINGMAN – The endangered black-footed ferret has for decades gone through cycles where wildlife experts had thought them extinct, then endangered, then extinct again. Now back to being endangered, the Arizona Game and Fish Department is asking for volunteers to participate in spotlighting projects to better document the ferret population.

The black-footed ferret, a member of the weasel family, are considered the most endangered mammals in North America and were put on the endangered species list in 1973. According to the Black-footed Ferret Project in Seligman, Arizona, black-footed ferrets were considered extinct in 1964. However, sightings of the furry, nocturnal animals began to resurface in 1965, only to be considered extinct again in 1979.

“So twice they thought these guys were completely gone off the face of the earth,” said Jennifer Cordova, wildlife expert with the Black-footed Ferret Project.

Cordova said in 1981 a dog in Wyoming killed a unique-looking critter, prompting the owner to take it to a taxidermist. The taxidermist then identified the animal as a black-footed ferret, dispelling the notion they were extinct. A small population of ferrets were found in the area, but disease had taken a toll, leaving only about 18 alive.

Cordova said black-footed ferrets’ diets consist about 90 percent of prairie dogs. In addition, the ferrets live in prairie dog burrows and give birth there as well. Cordova said being largely dependent on prairie dogs means when disease strikes the prairie dog, disease strikes the ferret.

“Both are susceptible to plague, so the ferret can get plague if it eats an infected prairie dog, or if bitten by an infected flea on the prairie dog,” Cordova said.

According to the project, of the 18 ferrets found living in Wyoming, only seven were able to reproduce when taken into captivity for a captive breeding program.

Cordova said the spotlighting project came to be in 1996 as a way to monitor the black-footed ferret population. Spotlighting uses high-powered lights to locate and identify the ferrets, as they are nocturnal and are identifiable by the greenish-tint their eyes give off when spotted.

Once spotted, the ferrets are trapped and brought to program organizers, like Cordova, who then insert monitoring devices, remove ticks, assess overall health and identify sex and age. Perhaps most importantly, the program vaccinates the ferrets to keep disease from again decreasing numbers in the wild.

The area where volunteers are needed from March 29-31, and again April 26-29, is Aubrey Valley on Double O Ranch, an area of about 1,500 acres.

“We really rely on our volunteers to be out there and help us find the ferrets,” Cordova said.

Volunteers will be taught how to use a GPS so they can mark areas where ferrets were sighted, as well as how to trap the ferrets. Cordova said all volunteers need to bring are snacks, something to drink and a positive attitude.

However, any equipment they can bring would be appreciated. Clipboards, headlamps, pens, walkie-talkies, compasses, backpacks, binoculars, cordless-rechargeable spotlights or four by four vehicles would help in the spotlighting effort.

Volunteers can sign up by emailing azferret@azgfd.gov with “spring spotlighting” as the subject. Volunteers should register by March 23 for the March 29 event, and April 20 for the April 26 event. They should also include full names, contact numbers, as well as the months and nights they would like to volunteer. Those under the age of 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

For more information on the recovery effort, go to www.azgfd.gov/wildlife.