Ferrets, Fishers & Polecats

Black-footed Ferrets Get a Boost From Science

19919848834_168797a6a5_oThese Black-footed Ferret kits born in 2015 are more than cute -- they represent a breakthrough for this critically endangered species that could benefit rare animals around the world. 

19919841354_371f4469e2_kPhoto Credit:  Mehgan Murphy, Smithsonian's National Zoo


In 1981, scientists found only one small wild population of Black-footed Ferrets in Wyoming.  Wildlife organizations, including zoos, have since brought this critically endangered species back from just 18 individuals to more than 2,600 in the wild today.  This summer, the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) broke the genetic bottleneck facing the species by using semen that had been cryopreserved for 10 to 20 years to artificially inseminate live female ferrets. This breakthrough will increase the number of black-footed ferrets born in human care while enhancing genetic diversity within the species.

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) developed and oversees the Black-footed Ferret Recovery Program. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan (SSP) manages the Black-footed Ferret breeding program with a breeding population composed of about 300 animals. For this study, all the males were managed either at SCBI or at the USFWS National Black-Footed Ferret Conservation Center. Scientists collected semen samples from adult Black-footed Ferrets that ranged in age from one to six years old. All females were solely managed at SCBI.

Initially, scientists used fresh semen to artificially inseminate females who failed to naturally mate with males, resulting in 135 kits. With just a few founders to rebuild an entire species, early managers of the Black-footed Ferret recovery program knew that genetic diversity could be lost. Loss of genetic variation can lead to increased sperm malformation and lower success of pregnancy over time. Researchers routinely collected and preserved Black-footed Ferret semen for later use as part of standard operating procedures.

Read more about Black-footed Ferret breeding and see more photos below.

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The Painting Ferrets Love ZooBorns!

As a holiday gift to ourselves, ZooBorns recently commissioned a stunning piece of performance art from the Painting Ferrets. We selected the "super polka" soundtrack for better and worse. Enjoy!

And remember, if you're looking for a holiday gift for yourself or an animal lover in your life, check out ZooBorns: Cats!, our original ZooBorns or our kids book ZooBorns!. Wow... that gets kind of confusing... They are all right here

Black-footed Ferret Milestone Year!


The Black-Footed Ferret, once thought to be extinct in the wild, was rediscovered in 1981 with a small population of 24 animals in Wyoming―30 years later the species’ future is brighter than ever. The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute is marking this anniversary with a record-breaking year―50 surviving Black-Footed Ferret kits were born at the Zoo’s Front Royal facility this year, helping to bolster the population of North America’s sole ferret species. Today more than 1,000 ferrets exist in the wild as the result of a successful reintroduction program at six breeding institutions, including SCBI. (For extensive information about SCBI’s success breeding the Black-footed Ferret, visit the Zoo’s Black-Footed Ferret press kit.)





Above, Dr. JoGayle Howard holds ferrets resulting from artificial breeding in 1988. Below, Howard with pups born in 1997.

Photo credits: Julie Larsen-Maher and Jessie Cohen (last 2) / Smithsonian's National Zoo

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Record Broken for Black-Footed Ferrets

Once believed to be extinct, Black-footed Ferrets have had a banner year for breeding at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s conservation facility in Front Royal, Va. Twelve litters of black-footed ferrets have been born at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute since May 7, including litters born to four females who have never before had kits.

Baby black footed ferret kits smithsonian national zoo 1a

Baby black footed ferret kits smithsonian national zoo 1

Baby black footed ferret kits smithsonian national zoo 3

Baby black footed ferret kits smithsonian national zoo 2

Baby black footed ferret kits smithsonian national zoo 4Photo credits: Smithsonian National Zoo

In total, 50 kits were born this year, and 49 have survived. The sizes of the litters this year also were larger than previous years. Five of the litters born this year included six kits—unusual for a species that usually has three or four kits at a time. The most recent litter was born July 23.

Read more below the fold:

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Polecat Pups Point to Conservation Progress

When polecat mother 'Moonshadow' gave birth to 10 tiny pole pups earlier this month, keepers at the UK's Shepreth WIldlife Park were astonished. The European polecat is the ancestor of the domesticated ferret. In the wild, polecat moms usually have just four to six young per litter. The bountiful birth, part of a captive breeding program, is great news for conservation efforts too. All ten will be released back into the wild in the fall. Polecats were hunted to near-extinction in England during the 19th century. While the animals are good at hunting rats and rabbits, which are usually seen as pests by farmers, they were ruthlessly culled to protect game bird estates.



36996_404333092084_521892084_4787334_755608_nPhoto Credits: Shepreth Wildlife Park

Black Footed Ferret Pup

A two week old black footed ferret in its nesting box at the National Zoo’s Conservation and Research Center in Front Royal, Va. on July 3, 2008.


Photo Credit Mehgan Murphy /Smithsonian’s National Zoo. Date July 3, 2008

A two month old black-footed ferret (right) with its mother at the National Zoo’s Conservation and Research Center.


Photo Credit Jessie Cohen/Smithsonian’s National Zoo. Date Aug. 18, 2008

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