Why Are Black-footed Ferrets Endangered? Know Actual Reasons

Black-footed ferrets are the wild-version of ferrets. They are native to North America. This species is thought to be extinct until 1981. Then it was rediscovered in Wyoming. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has taken some projects to restore the species in the wild.

The black-footed ferret is currently the subject of significant conservation efforts because it is an endangered species. There are several reasons why black-footed ferrets are endangered. They have faced several challenges, including habitat destruction, overhunting, disease, etc. Here, we will cover all the details in the below section.

About Black-footed Ferrets

Black-footed ferrets are the weasel family members native to central grasslands and basins from southern Canada to Texas. This is the only ferret species native to North America. They used to live in only prairie dog colonies.

These black-footed ferrets have tube-shaped bodies, sharp teeth, large front paws, and claws. Their neck is long and short legs. They are a member of the Weasel family and their size is just like a mink.

An adult ferret is about 24 inches long weighing about three pounds. Their fur is in yellow-beige with distinctive black markings all over the body. Their claws are armed with sharp and pointy nails.

Their body shape and characteristics make them incredible hunters. They are also fast and excellent diggers. They dart through the vast underground colonies. Ferrets are nocturnal, they are hardly seen above the ground during the daytime.

Why Are Black-footed Ferrets Endangered?

Why Are Black-footed Ferrets Endangered

There were about 5 million black-footed ferrets in the US in the early 1900s. But by 1970, they were becoming extinct. Then, in 1981, a black-footed colony was discovered on a ranch.

Using just seven breeding ferrets from the newly discovered Wyoming colony, scientists managed to increase their numbers in captivity and then released them back into the wild.

Still, black-footed ferrets are endangered. As a Ferret lover, you may eager to know why are black footed ferrets going extinct. The most probable reasons are:

1. Killing Food Source

Black-footed ferrets are fully dependent on prairie dogs as food intake. They are predators in prairie dog colonies and prey on them every other day. Prairie dogs cover 90% of the food source of ferrets in the wild.

In fact, a ferret can eat over 100 prairie dogs in a year. So you can understand that the drastic reduction in prairie dogs nearly led to the extinction of ferrets.

Protecting black-footed ferrets often means protecting another creature: the prairie dog. Ferrets in North America rely heavily on prairie dog communities for their food, shelter, and raising their babies.

However, prairie dogs are considered pests in many areas as they eat grass used by livestock or winter wheat grown as a crop. They are regularly killed off, leading to significant drops in their numbers.

2. Habitat Loss

Habitat loss is a significant factor. Due to agriculture and development, black-footed ferrets gradually lost their habitat. It has directly impacted the ferrets’ ability to find adequate prey and suitable living conditions.

Additionally, the conversion of the prairie grasslands that they inhabit into farmland and urban areas has further restricted their habitat. Human activities such as agriculture, urban development, and recreation have also contributed to the decline of black-footed ferret populations.

3. Low Genetic Diversity

Fragmentation of populations also plays a role in the decline of black-footed ferrets. As their habitats become fragmented and isolated, the ferrets struggle to find mates and maintain genetic diversity within their populations. This can lead to inbreeding and further reduce their chances of survival.

Low genetic diversity is a big issue for black-footed ferrets because most of them came from the first group discovered in Wyoming. The genetic variety of our ferrets is about 86% of what was in the original group.

When dividing habitats up, can also reduce the genetic diversity among ferrets, both in the wild and in captivity. This can lead to problems like weaker immune systems and fewer babies being born.

4. Diseases

Disease is another major threat to the black-footed ferret population, as they are susceptible to illnesses such as sylvatic plague and canine distemper.

Sylvatic plague is a bacterial disease that fleas spread, affecting wild rodents like black-footed ferrets and prairie dogs. This disease can wipe out whole groups of wild rodents once it gets introduced. Even if some survive, the plague often comes back 5 to 15 years later after previous outbreaks.

What Can We Do To Save Black-footed Ferrets?

why are black footed ferrets going extinct

Black-footed ferrets are critically endangered species facing numerous threats in the wild. To save them, it is essential to implement strategic conservation efforts.

One key measure to protect black-footed ferrets is habitat restoration and protection. By preserving and expanding their natural habitats, we can ensure that these animals have sufficient space and resources to thrive.

Managing populations of their main prey, prairie dogs can also help ensure that black-footed ferrets have an adequate food supply.

This may involve working with landowners and government agencies to secure land for ferret conservation and creating corridors to connect isolated populations.

Furthermore, black-footed ferrets need to be protected from diseases that affect them. Vaccination programs and monitoring for diseases such as plague can help reduce mortality rates and improve the overall health of these animals.

Conservation programs must collaborate with stakeholders, including government agencies, conservation organizations, and local communities. The World Wildlife Fund, Defenders of Wildlife, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are working together to return the masked bandit of the prairie to the Reservation.

By working together and sharing resources and expertise, we can maximize the impact of our efforts to save black-footed ferrets in the wild. We can help secure a future for these iconic species in the wild with decisive action.


The current state of black-footed ferrets shows both progress and challenges. Efforts such as captive breeding and reintroduction programs have helped increase their population to over 300 individuals in the wild. Biologists suggest that to fully recover this endangered species, there should be around 3,000 adult ferrets in the wild.

Many projects has been made in the recovery of black-footed ferrets. Still, ongoing conservation efforts are necessary preventing remaining threats and ensure the long-term survival of this endangered species.

Today, black-footed ferrets have been upgraded to the endangered species list with an estimated 206 black-footed ferrets alive in the wild and several hundred more in captivity.