The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is preparing to release 35 black-footed ferrets into the wilderness near Pueblo.
The release is scheduled to happen on Wednesday, October 30, 2013, at 10:00 a.m.
The black-footed ferret was once considered the most endangered mammal in North America. Three decades ago, it was believed to be extinct. In 1981, a cattle dog named Shep found a black-footed ferret on the prairie land of Meeteetse, Wyoming and presented it to his owner - which led to the discovery of a living black-footed ferret population. To safeguard the species from imminent extinction, the last 18 known black-footed ferrets were rescued between 1985 and 1987. In 1986, Wyoming Game and Fish initiated the first captive-breeding program for black-footed ferrets.
Cheyenne Mountain Zoo made the decision to invest and join the black-footed ferret recovery effort in 1990. A breeding facility was built on Zoo grounds. Though not visible to the public, the facility is helping bring a species back from near extinction.
Dr. Della Garelle, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo's Director of Conservation and the Species Survival Plan Chair for the international black-footed ferret breeding team, is excited about the future of the species.
"Tomorrow, the number of black-footed ferrets living free in Colorado will grow from zero to 35," Garelle said. "Thanks to captive-breeding efforts by Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and four other institutions, the black-footed ferret population has been brought back from brink of extinction. Currently, there are at least 500 in the wild."
There will be a second wild release in Colorado in the coming weeks to further increase the species' wild numbers and distribute the population widely over the release site.
"We are excited that black-footed ferrets born in Colorado can now be released in Colorado," Garelle said. "This release was made possible because of legislation passed in our State's Capitol early this spring."
A 1999 Colorado law, which was put into effect in 2002, requires legislative approval before any endangered species are introduced or reintroduced in the state. The recently completed Black-footed Ferret Programmatic Safe Harbor Agreement (SHA) has created the opportunity for private land owners to participate in the recovery of black-footed ferrets on Colorado prairie lands. Wednesday's release will take place on private land near Pueblo.
Click here to learn more about the black-footed ferret recovery program.