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Black-footed Ferret

North America

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Mustela nigripes

Endangered

The Black-Footed Ferret is listed as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) primarily because of loss of prairie dogs and prairie dog burrows which is its main food source and shelter, respectively.

Black-Footed Ferrets or Prairie Dog Hunters are the only endemic ferret species in North America.

They were once considered globally extinct in the wild by the end of the 1970s. Though it is slowly making a comeback through captive breeding and reintroduction efforts in its natural habitat, its total population is still less than 400 individuals.

Also called American Polecats, these nocturnal mustelid species almost exclusively eat prairie dogs. And because Black-Footed Ferrets have small, weak legs incapable of digging, they also rely on prairie dog burrows for their shelter against weather elements and threat of predators.

But the vulnerability of prairie dogs to canine distemper and the bacterial Sylvatic plague has almost wiped out its colonies, which also threatens the survival of Black-Footed Ferrets.

Prairie dog towns are also destroyed to give way to agricultural lands and human settlements. Moreover, prairie dogs fall victim to poisoning by farmers and landowners who consider them as competitors for their livestock animals or pests in general. All of these factors contribute to the diminishing number of the rarest North American carnivore mammals.