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Black-footed ferrets continue to make progress in uphill climb

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Black footed ferret makes comebackThey may not hold the same fascination as with professional sports, but to those working toward the recovery of black-footed ferrets, the records established in March hold more meaning.

“It’s exciting news,” said Jeff Corcoran, supervisor for the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Black-footed Ferret Recovery Effort in Seligman. “The results and the interest level provide hope for the continued success in the recovery of this endangered animal.”

Game and Fish personnel and a record 103 volunteers (including 61 in one night) worked from dusk to dawn from March 25-29 spotlighting for the nocturnal black-footed ferret.

The crew had 54 captures overall (42 individual ferrets with 12 being captured more than once), and 17 were captured in one night. All established new highs for the project. Of the 42 individuals, 29 had never before been trapped.

“We’ve never caught that many ferrets before and we did so before this year’s breeding and reproduction,” Corcoran said.

A total of 60 never previously captured wild-born ferrets were trapped in two spotlighting efforts in 2009.

“I’m excited about the numbers,” Corcoran said. “You think about this one spotlighting effort and compare it to where the ferrets once were and you can’t help but be pleased.”

The black-footed ferret was twice thought to be extinct until a small population was discovered in 1981. After a disease outbreak, a mere 18 of the black-footed ferrets remained in the world. Those final 18 were captured and captive breeding efforts began in 1985.

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In 1996, Arizona’s Aubrey Valley, outside Seligman, was selected as a reintroduction site and it was five years before the first documentation of wild-born ferrets. The reintroduction is funded primarily through Arizona’s Heritage Fund.

“From where this animal was to where it is now is a testament to the dedication of Game and Fish personnel and the volunteers who have braved the cold and long nights to bring this animal back from the brink of extinction,” Corcoran said.

The latest spotlighting effort – which involves backpack-spotlighting from dusk until dawn – was a success, in large part, because of those willing to volunteer their time.

“Volunteers have played a critical role in the reintroduction process since Day One,” Corcoran said. “Without their dedication, I’m not sure we’d have as good an understanding of where we stand in this reintroduction effort.”

A fall spotlighting effort will take place in October. Anyone interested in volunteering should contact the black-footed ferret field station at azferret@azgfd.gov to receive more information.

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