Captive Breeding

In order to save the species, black-footed ferrets were removed from prairie dog colonies outside of Meeteetse, Wyoming. The fate of the black-footed ferret was now soley in the hands of captive breeding.

Initially, not much was known about the reproductive biology of the black-footed ferret. While earlier attempts to breed members of the Mellette County South Dakota population in captivity were successful in the 1970s, none of the resulting offspring survived. Biologists with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service convened domestic ferret breeders and reproductive experts from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Today there are six facilities that make up the managed BFF Species Survival Plan®(SSP®). These include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center (Colorado), National Zoo’s Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (VA), Louisville Zoological Garden (KY), Toronto Zoo (Ontario, Canada), Cheyenne Mountain Zoo (CO) and Phoenix Zoo (AZ). Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo participated in the SSP® until the late 1990s.

Black-footed ferrets are seasonal breeders. Facilities begin checking both males and females for reproductive readiness in January. Since the SSP® is genetically a closed population (no new unrelated black-footed ferrets have been found since 1987) all pairings are done to minimize the loss of genetic diversity. The primary task of the SSP® is to produce as many kits as possible to support ongoing reintroduction efforts. Educating people about the BFF and prairie ecosystem is another import aspect of the SSP®.

All ferret kits produced are entered into a studbook. The studbook contains individual animal information (birth, death, transfers & transponder chip) as well as the pedigree of each animal.

Since 1986, over 7,100 kits have been produced at the captive breeding facilities.

Facilities that house black-footed ferrets are not open to the public for disease and disturbance concerns. Older, non-reproductive ferrets from the SSP® which are not suitable reintroduction candidates serve as education ambassadors and can be found on display throughout North America.

The graph to the left depicts the number of BFF kits born at all captive breeding facilities from the beginning of the program through 2010.

Captive Breeding Facilities

This map shows the locations of the six BFF captive breeding facilities. Visit the Online Resources page for links to each facility.

Display Facilities

Visit our Online Resources Page for links to each zoo/display facility.

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