Ferret-finding mission proves successful

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April 8th, 2009

Ninety-two people braved the cold weather and long nights for an opportunity to call in: “we’ve got one.”

The dedicated volunteers joined Arizona Game and Fish Department personnel for five nights in the Aubrey Valley to spotlight for the elusive, nocturnal, endangered black-footed ferret.

In all, the group of participants caught 33 ferrets, 24 of which were unique individuals, meaning they are wild born and had never before been trapped. Two of the ferrets captured were first documented in 2006, displaying longevity in the wild.

“I’m excited about the numbers,” said Jeff Pebworth, wildlife program manager for the Game and Fish Department’s Kingman office. “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.

In 1996, Arizona’s Aubrey Valley was selected as a reintroduction site and it was five years before the first documentation of wild-born ferrets.

“From where this animal was to where it is now is a testament to 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,” Pebworth 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,” Pebworth 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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