Posted: October 23, 2009, 5 a.m. EDT
Our Home And Native Land: Canada Welcomes Back Black-Footed Ferrets

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.

van loaded with black-footed ferrets © Travis Livieri
A U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service van was used to transport 34 black-footed ferrets from a breeding center in Colorado to the release site in Canada. Several of the ferrets were born at the Toronto Zoo.

September 30, 2009
12:25 p.m., Wednesday
The pickup truck rocks back and forth with each gust of wind. The steel gray clouds race across the sky, and it’s only a matter of time before the rain begins. I hope it doesn’t rain. I’m driving on a lonely, prairie highway in northern Montana, about to cross the border into Canada. I really hope it doesn’t rain.

3:48 p.m.
It’s raining. I’m out on a prairie dog colony in Grasslands National Park, talking on my cell phone to Pat, a biologist with Parks Canada. Black-footed ferrets are ready to return to Canada after a 70-year absence. The past five years have been full of planning, meetings, protocols and captive breeding. I tell Pat it needs to stop raining before Friday or we will have a mess on our hands when we release black-footed ferrets on the very prairie dog colony where I’m standing. With optimism in his voice, Pat tells me the weather will be perfect on Friday. Skeptical, I relay the forecast to Kenton, Mark, Margus and Ben, a film crew from the documentary series The Nature of Things with David Suzuki . I’ll be working with them in the field as their black-footed ferret guide over the next year as we document the release and occasionally follow up on the animals.

black-footed ferret in crate
© Travis Livieri
Just hours before its release into the wild, a captive-bred black-footed ferret sits patiently in a pet crate after arriving in Saskatchewan, Canada.

October 1, 2009
9:30 a.m., Thursday
Feeling refreshed after a full night of sleep, I wander downstairs from my hotel room to the restaurant and immediately see several colleagues and friends, gathered for a late breakfast. After smiles, handshakes and a few hugs, I sit down for bacon and eggs with the film crew. A few local people in the restaurant, of the 137 that live in Val Marie, Saskatchewan, are very polite and warm. Despite the gloomy weather outside, an electric feeling fills the town.

11:08 a.m.
The film crew and I are back out on the prairie dog colony, getting some pre-release footage. It’s no longer raining, but the wind is still relentless.

1:10 p.m.
Pat arrives with Natasha from the Calgary Zoo, and we amble across the colony, selecting tomorrow’s release sites for black-footed ferrets.

5:33 p.m.
I’m back in town and many more people have arrived for tomorrow’s release of black-footed ferrets. Where are all these people going to sleep? We must have doubled the town population.

7:40 p.m.
The folks at Grasslands National Park put together a small pre-celebration at the Prairie Wind & Silver Sage museum/gallery for the delegates attending the release. I never thought of myself as a delegate; I’m just a black-footed ferret biologist. Katherine, the park superintendent, gives a brief, heartfelt speech about how much tomorrow’s black-footed ferret release means to Parks Canada, Val Marie and Canada in general. She then proceeds to call out 14 delegates, one by one, and presents them with a framed award. I haven’t accomplished anything, but I graciously accept the award and stand among my peers, several of whom have been working many years to make this happen. It is humbling and can even make a person a little misty-eyed. I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow.

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Reader Comments
Tommy, pocatello, ID
Posted: 2/17/2010 9:22:59 AM
It brings a warm feeling to my heart knowing that the black-footed ferrets is back in Canada!
Diana, Chicago, IL
Posted: 12/22/2009 8:58:45 PM
Travis you have captured the Canadian release event perfectly. Yes, tears were rolling down my face. I am so proud to work with all of you amazing ferret people, the Canadian release could not have moved forward without all of your support and assistance. I love you all!
Maria, Toronto, Canada
Posted: 10/30/2009 6:26:08 AM
I love these ferrets. They live around here but I've only seen them once.
Galadriel, Lothlorien, ME
Posted: 10/24/2009 6:54:36 PM
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