Missing from Arizona's landscape for more than 65 years, black-footed ferrets are now celebrating two major milestones: Record population numbers and the 10th anniversary since reintroduction efforts began in the state. The black-footed ferret was previously thought to be extinct, but is now rebounding since reintroduction started in 1996 in the Aubrey Valley outside Seligman.
"The black-footed ferret's growing population numbers are very encouraging," says Bill Van Pelt, head of Arizona Game and Fish Department's bird and small mammal section. "We have continued to see year-over-year increases, and this year's survey numbers are a great way to celebrate the 10th anniversary since the reintroduction in Arizona."
Biologists feared the black-footed ferret was extinct in the late 1970s, but then discovered approximately 120 of the animals in Wyoming in the mid-1980s. In 1985, after two disease outbreaks had killed nearly all of the remaining ferrets, the last 18 individuals were captured to start a breeding program. The ferrets' offspring now live at eight reintroduction sites in the United States and Mexico, including one in Aubrey Valley. Before reintroduction, the last black-footed ferret in Arizona was found in 1931 in an area between Williams and Flagstaff.
Using high-powered spotlights at night, biologists set out every year to the release site to begin population surveys.
With help from a team of volunteers, biologists spotted a record number of ferrets this year. They trapped and then released 45 individual animals, which represents an increase of nearly 30 percent over last year's population.