Posted: June 1, 2009, 5 a.m. EDT
Black-Footed Ferret Secrets

By Travis Livieri
In 2008, sylvatic plague reached the Conata Basin, an area of South Dakota that was a previous safe haven for black-footed ferrets and one of the most successful sites for reintroducing the endangered black-footed ferret into the wild. Travis Livieri is one of the people working to save the black-footed ferrets, also known as BFFs.

A sneaky black-footed ferret is finnaly captured
© Travis Livieri
This male black-footed ferret, ID 06-001, managed to evade capture and counting for two years. Was he that elusive, was he living on another colony? Only he knows. 


May 12, 2009
10:24 p.m., Tuesday
The ground is pretty dry as I bump the pickup truck through another drainage to reach the prairie dog colony we call The South Exclosure. The sky is partly cloudy, and the wind is starting to increase. The grass is greening up from all the April precipitation. I turn on my spotlight and begin searching.

11:17 p.m.
I spot a badger, and he quickly scurries into a burrow. I turn the pickup off and approach the burrow for a closer look. Now, I’m not afraid of the dark, ghosts, werewolves or much else, but if you’ve ever heard a badger hiss and growl, it will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. I decide that a closer look isn’t really necessary.

May 13, 2009
2:11 a.m., Wednesday
Wind will sometimes reduce black-footed ferret activity and tonight is no exception. I’ve seen nothing until a male pops his head up, and I catch a glimpse of his eyeshine. I can tell it’s a male by the size of his head, and I quickly set a trap.

3:09 a.m.
I return to check the trap, and he is captured. Not wasting any time, I grab my microchip reader, get a reading on his microchip and release him back into the burrow. Back in the pickup truck I record the information on my data sheet, including his microchip number, 082*593*609, and I cross-check his information. Male, number 06-001, meaning he was the first kit captured in 2006, and he hasn’t been seen since then.

Despite considerable effort in 2007 and 2008, this ferret has not been located in 918 days. That means either 06-001 is very elusive or he was living on another prairie dog colony that we don’t search very much.

I wish 06-001 could talk. I would love to interview him. Where have you been? Did you find any females during your travels? What kind of danger have you seen? Do you live somewhere else but return to the colony of your birth every spring to breed?

I would inundate him with dozens of questions, and my curiosity would still not be satisfied. But 06-001 cannot talk and his secrets will remain his own. All I can do is collect the data for that time and location, a mere fraction of his life. The rest is up to me to piece together.

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Reader Comments
That black-footed ferret looked big and huge!! Thank you so much for doing what t=your doing. I just wish their were more people like you. It is ashame that so many animals are endagered because of us humans!
Jessica, New Kensington, PA
Posted: 6/7/2009 1:23:50 PM
OMGosh, how exciting this must be. Thank goodness there are folks like you Travis out there saving our most precious resources. Kudos and keep up the GREAT work you do!!
Linda, Winter Haven, FL
Posted: 6/2/2009 9:25:25 PM
Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us. I appreciate your dedication to working to save these beautiful creatures and I just signed up to donate to help support your efforts.
Violetta, Naples, FL
Posted: 6/2/2009 5:24:45 PM
Wow. He looks bigger than I expected. At a ranger station in Montana we have seen a little white weasle, smaller than our ferrets, who had apparently taken down a large rabbit. The BFFs are true survivors. Are there still opportunities to see them at Wind Cave (in the Dakotas?)?
Bobbi McC, Kansas City, MO
Posted: 6/2/2009 2:05:13 PM
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