Ferret Town

Ferret Town


(soft instrumental music)– [Woman] They were out
looking for ferrets.– [Woman 2] We knew that
they could be out therebut we never found anymore.– [Man] Black-footed ferret
didn’t exist, it was extinct.What am I going to do about it?Nothin.– [Man 2] The reluctance
to admit that we hadcome to the end of the
road, led to a lot ofpoor decision making.– [Man 3] Every species
is worth saving.– [Woman] If they can
come back to Meeteetse,that’s where they belong.– [Man] She had heard a ruckus
in the yard the night before.And she knew that the dog
had been fighting something.And so when they got
up the next morning,she told my dad, to go out
and see what had gone on.– You need to get
outside and check Shepfor porcupine quills.And so my dad went
out and lookedand there was no
porcupine quills.But there was a dead animal.And so he just literally
tossed it over the fence.She of course said,
well I want to see it.So he went outside,
brings it back inand neither one of them
really recognized this animal.But Lucille being Lucille
said well we should take thatto town and have it stuffed.It’d look great on the mantel.And so we went about our
business and went to townand laid it out on the counter
of LaFrenchy’s Taxidermy.And then he took it to
the back and pretty soonhe came out and said,
well, I’m pretty sureyou have an endangered
species on your hands.They asked, well what is it?And he said, a
black-footed ferret.And neither of my parents
knew what that was.– My mom was always upset
from the fact that shenever did get to get
her ferret mounted.– [Julie] We left the shop
not knowing what was goingto happen next.– Three things happened
to cause the declineof the black-footed
ferret which are reallyin their own kind of a top
predator in the food chain.Black-footed ferrets
require prairie dogs.They’re an obligate
predator on prairie dogs.Without prairie
dogs we’re not goingto have black-footed ferrets.(animated music and buzzing)Prairie dogs declined once
we started settling the Westbecause we plowed that
part of the countryand turned it into the
breadbasket of America.And then later on we started
poisoning prairie dogsto reduce competition
between domestic livestockand prairie dogs.(soft instrumental music)And then finally the
plague came along which isan old world disease that
came into North Americaaround 1900 and both
prairie dogs and ferretsare susceptible to plague.– Sylvatic plague is
the number one threatto black-footed ferret recovery.It’s the same as bubonic plague,
that caused the Black Deathover in Europe historically.Disease is transmitted by fleas.Fleas are the vector.It can effect a
multitude of speciesbut it’s particularly
deadly in prairie dogsbecause they’re social
animals and it allows itto spread relatively
quickly throughthe prairie dog communities.– [Pete] So coupled with
poisoning and coupledwith land conversion,
we don’t see the kindof prairie dog colonies
we used to havewhere they went on
for miles and miles.There are reports through
the 40’s and 50’s and 60’sthat we’re seeing fewer
and fewer ferrets.And then the question that
people were scratchingtheir heads to, do
we have any moreblack-footed ferrets out there?– The Endangered Species
Act was passed in 1973.People were just beginning
to understand the problemswith endangered
species and extinctionand were very
supportive of the act.– The black-footed
ferret was actually inthe top 10 list of animalsthat they knew were in trouble.And then in 50’s in
South Dakota there wasa small population discovered
by US Fish and WildlifeService biologists.They took a number of those
ferrets back to Patuxentwhich is on the
East Coast and trieda captive breeding program.– The first experiment
had not been a successwith trying to bring
ferrets in and raise themin captivity.And the last of those
animals died in 1979.At that point they were
about ready to declarethe animal extinct.But people were still looking.– Our job was to go out and
look for black-footed ferretson these coal lease
sites prior to the sitebeing developed for coal.Under the Endangered Species
Act, we needed to go outand at least make an
effort to see if they werestill there before that
habitat was completely removed.We started to find some
skulls, some evidencethat ferrets did exist
in some of these places.But they just
weren’t there then.My friends, all wildlife
biologists thought I was lookingfor a needle in a hay stack.And it was during that
time when the first ferretwas discovered in Meeteetse,
on the Hogg Ranch.We were told to kind
of be on stand bybecause more than likely,
somebody was going to be sentto go up to Meeteetse
and look around.And I literally had
to get a map out,I didn’t know where
Meeteetse was.Meeteetse was a very small
town but it was stillsomewhat vibrant.Started talking to
people, the rancher,went out to the Hogg’s and went
out to the Pitchfork Ranch.Jack Turnell who was the
ranch manager at that time,got his permission to
go out and look arounda little bit.Then it was very
exciting, very exciting.The survey technique was
to, he would hold your handsoutside of the window with
a spotlight in your handand you would just
scan along the groundlooking for green eyeshine.Black-footed ferrets
have very characteristicemerald green eyeshine.And we were
spotlighting our way in.But in this case
I saw the eyeshinebut it was almost light
enough to where I could see,make out the outline
of the animal.And it just ran across the
road and went down a burrow.I put my hat over the
hole and Steve and Ikind of started dancing
and jumping aroundbecause here we had
actually seen a ferret.Our instructions were to
put a radio collar on it.So we set a trap and
he went to town to makethe arrangements with
the local veterinarianand I grabbed a lawn chair
and I sat there all dayAnd at dusk, just as it got
dark, we had him caught.It was October 29th, 1981.To our knowledge, we had the
only live black-footed ferretin the world in our hands.– The ranching community
even at that time wasnot particularly pro
government whether that wasstate or federal folks.So they were happy to have
independent, at least non-profitbased folks out there.So that’s how ISU
Biota slipped in.Doctor Clark showed up
I think shortly afterbeing notified that
the ferret was found.He had a grant to
provide reward money.So he handed the
Hogg family a check.And as it turns out the Hogg
family’s incredibly generous,wonderful family.Really embracing these kind
of, could of been weirdand creepy scientists
showed up at their doorstep.– The ranch was flooded
with what my motherlovingly referred to
as ferret hunters.– As it turned out,
they got quite closewith folks from all
the different agencies.And some of the conservation
groups that were involved.It turned to be one
of really great thingsin their lives I think.– Endangered Species
Act was relatively new,really only eight years old.And what this federal state
dynamic was suppose to bewas kind of unknown.– I think Fish and
Wildlife Servicejust decided at that timethat the best thing was
to hand off the lead roleto the Game and Fish Department.Wyoming did set
up a black-footed
ferret advisory teamat that time, they
called it BFAT for shortand it had various federal
and state people on itto kind of set out policy.– [Steve] They picked a rancher,which happened to
be Jack Turnellwho’s large ranch that most
of the ferrets were on.– Black-footed
ferret didn’t exist.It was extinct.Bingo, here it is. Not extinct.Pretty soon hell broke loose
and I said I’m going to shutthe whole ranch off
’cause y’all crazy.– [Steve] He could of shut the
whole thing down literally.Keeping Jack happy was
an important aspectto the work for sure.– The whole thing
changed my perspectiveabout management of
ranches, property, land.If the ferret didn’t exist
it’s not going to changeyour life, my life or
anybody else’s life.But they were here
for some reasonand it’s okay to
help them, to becomepart of this system again.(soft guitar music)– Well, it’s pretty unnerving
when somebody tells youthat you’re going to be
responsible for that speciesin the state where you work.You really have a lot
of mixed emotions.A lot of anxiety that wow.What if you make the mistake
that causes the extinction.– Wyoming had this
approach, they were just,it was all about
not screwing up.So they were incredibly
heavy handed in terms ofthe regulatory approach.– When you’re looking
at some of the lastof any species on earth,
certainly you’re havingsecond thought about
even touching themor do anything at all.So everything we did was
carefully considered.We found some right away in
81 and that was a handful.And by 82 we got into
more detailed searches,a lot more intensive work.The idea of telemetry
was to try to get remote,triangulation systems
so that we could trackthe movements of the
animals without impingingon their activity and
influencing them ourselves.There were problems
along the way.This was sort of a
developmental thing.If we didn’t fit
them exactly right,they got neck sore sometimes
or they would come offand mud build up was
one of the problems.There was always criticism.Is it worth it?In my judgment it was worth
it but there is a costto doing it.– Living on the ranch we
had all the biologistsaround here.And so we could ask
a lot of questions.They didn’t know a whole lot
about this animal either.So it was fun to
learn with them.– It was so exciting and
there was a lot of hype.I think the community just
kind of got behind it.If for no other reason
than the fact thatMeeteetse now had a reason
to be put on the mapand famous for the
black-footed ferrets.– It’s fun, it’s
part of Meeteetse.Nobody else in the
world could have it everand never will again.It was unique and it
had survived by dintof people doing what they
had always done therewhich was just ranching and
putting up with prairie dogs.We were fairly confident
even after that first summerthat we had pretty much pegged
where the population was.And about what the size was.So we expanded sort of
the list of questions.Are they producing enough
ferrets out of herethat we could take
some and form a coreof a reintroduction
program elsewhere?These tiny small
populations are at riskfrom all kinds of random stuff.It could be anything.It’s too small and
it’s too confinedand it’s too isolated.It’s an island.Just leaving a population aloneis not the management answer.The reluctance to
admit that we hadcome to the end of the
road led to a lot ofI think poor decision making
and one of those things wasa resistance initially
to captive breeding.– The BFAT meetings,
a discussion came upand Clark in particular
was pushing hard for that,at a fairly early point.It was not looked
with favor for awhileamong either Fish
and Wildlife Serviceor Wyoming Game and Fish.– [Bob] The whole thing about
bringing them into captivitywas uncertainties of how you
manage them in captivity.But also the uncertainties
of will that populationpersist at Meeteetse?Huge because we didn’t know
where there were any otherferret populations.Really over the years,
over the decadesferrets didn’t have a chance.Meeteetse was doomed.– Everyone finally came
around to thinking,well we probably do
need to do somethingbecause we can’t
recover an animalby just protecting it here.And so that led ultimately
to the discussion in 1984that we would actually
start a small scale effortand then ease our way into it.But it was not an easy
thing, the discussion washighly contentious.And I remember a lot of
hard feelings about it.– We’re really lucky, there’s,
when I think back overthe disagreements, there
were several placeswhere we could of
lost those ferrets,we could of lost
the whole ballgame.We had of course reached
our peak numbers in 1984,129 or so animals.Quite a few litters
and adults out thereand lots of kits and we
were expecting good thingsin the following year 1985.– I went out to, in
June, was walking aroundand found a dead prairie dog
on the surface of the ground.And that was pretty unusual.We were concerned about
plague so I bagged it up,drove it down to Fort
Collins to the CDC here.Left it off with them
and word came backwithin a week that it
was, had died of plague.– [Dean] Couple of colonies
were really looking bad.They had almost been vacated.And so we thought, well this
is bad news for ferrets.– [Bob] We had to gear
up really quickly,get crews together to come out.– We were by that time
losing ferrets we knew,we counted them I
think in September.We were down to 30 from
60 so we were losing abouthalf of them every month.And so there was real concern
about ferrets collapsingalong with the prairie dogs.There wasn’t a lot of concern
about ferrets directlygetting plague and dying
from it but a lot of concernabout losing prairie dog prey.It was a very emotion drove
meeting in October of 1985when things turned
around pretty quickly.But it became an emergency
situation at that point.– Tom Thorne shows up,
very dramatic moment.Comes in, he looks
haggard, tired.But he basically stood up,
I’ve got some really bad news.Two of the ferrets that
we brought in to captivity10 days ago are dead.From what we know, they have
died of canine distemper.That was a turning
point for the wholewhatever would come forward.Once that disease
outbreak runs its courseeveryone will be dead.Then you’re done.There really isn’t
any other choicebut to take them into captivity.– It slim, but if we are
successful at we’re embarking onright today, I call it
a salvage operation,if we’re successful in
maintaining a foundergroup of animals for our
captive breeding effortwe should have animals
for reintroduction.– Everybody was dumbstruck
by Tom’s announcement.I mean that was just a shock.In the fall then we
took six more to replacethe six that had died.By that time by
November we were downto about 15 animals in the wild.This was really looking dire.– There was a lot of reluctance
amongst the local peoplein the Meeteetse
community and elsewhereabout taking those animals out.Wondering if they’d
ever get them back.– That was also controversial.It’s like, well you
know, they lived here forhow many thousands of years.Probably were here the whole
time and nobody knew itwhen they thought they
were maybe extinct.Why take them out?– And there was difference of
opinion what was happening.Distemper, plague
taking out prairie dogs.At that time, we did
not know that ferretswould die of the
sylvatic plague too.– Things are not always
as they seem and we jumpto the conclusion of canine
distemper really quickly.Now that we know what plague
does to ferrets directlyit was clearly a big factor
in what was happeningin 1985 at Meeteetse.By winter we could
only find four.We went from 15 down to four
known animals out there.It was the low
point for ferrets.– All of us thought, wow,
those are maybe the lastblack-footed ferrets
that will ever exist,that we’ll ever see.I think it was
really that poignant.– The very last
ferret out there wasthe adult male Scarface.He was incredibly
difficult to catch.It took us probably half
a year or more to get him.He was free ranging, all
of his skills were intactand his behaviors were normal.He was in breeding condition
when we brought him inand that may have made
a lot of difference.Immediately when we
got him in to Sybille,he bred a female right
away and that wasone of the two litters
they had in 87.And that was our first
look at kits in captivityand surviving kits
and that was abig plus, to say the least.We started out with a lopsided
genetic representationover weighting Scarface.It’s like having seven
unique individualsthat started this whole thing.– [Dean] In 1991, there were
enough ferrets being producedin captivity to start
considering reintroduction.Really there was a strong
push to put the firstreintroduction site
back at Meeteetsewhich for logical reasons.But by that time Meeteetse
was falling apart.The habitat was just
really in terrible shapeand going downhill.Plague took a big whack
out of Meeteetse as far asferret habitat.– We really wanted
Meeteetse but just,there weren’t any
prairie dogs there.So the Shirley Basin
was next place.– [Dean] It was quite an affair.There was tents set
up that I rememberwith dignitaries from
all around the country.I tried to stay, as
a field biologist,stay away from most of that.But it was really a
sense of euphoria I thinkto actually get animals
back out of the ground.I don’t know how
else to describe it.It was just really
a great feeling.– It was very difficult
when all the ferretsleft Meeteetse.You know, people were
sad that they were gone.And they started
reintroducing ferretsto everywhere but Meeteetse.And I know that this
town and I know thatJohn, Lucille and the
rest of the familywas always disappointed.How come we can’t
have the ferrets back?– Two years ago I think, when
the Game and Fish came up,they sat down with me and
said that they were goingto be doing some
prairie dog studies,on the Pitchfork Ranch
and that it would benear our place.At that point it was
just a matter of studyingthe prairie dogs
to see if there wasa viable of
population that wouldlet ferrets come back.– Game and Fish came and
talked to us about it.And they’ve noticed over
the last two summersthe population’s
double the size.And we can notice it just
driving out on a four wheeler,you’re seeing a lot
more prairie dogs now.– [Kristine] I really believe
that some day we will havethose ferrets back.– We’ve continued
to put ferrets out.We’ve had to find a way
to get past the politicaland social objections to
having a few prairie dogson the landscape.We’ve had to find a way to get
past the regulatory concernsrelated to having a endangered
species on your property.We found a way to do
that in over 25 sitesand eight states,
Mexico and Canada.We still keep getting our
legs cut out from under usby the fact that plague will
come in and hit these areasThey’re not going to
be benignly managed,put out and left there.We’re going to have to deal
with this exotic disease.There’s some ways
to manage plague.You can kill the fleas
with insecticides.There’s some vaccines on
the horizon that may be ableto limit the plague where
we can keep prairie dogson the landscapes.Our recovery goal for
ferrets would only requireone tenth of one
percent of the potentialprairie dog habitat out there.3,000 ferrets scattered
across 12 states.We think ferret recovery is
possible within a decade.I mean we have a few hundred
ferrets on the landscape nowthat they can grow very
quickly if they were protectedfrom plague and had
enough prairie dogsto reproduce and
repopulate their species.– So the Wyoming Game
and Fish Departmentrequested a ferret
allocation to support theMeeteetse reintroduction
site and we were grantedto release 35 ferrets
this year in 2016.It was willing landowners
who essentiallycame to us being
happy to participateand wanting to make a differencein prairie dogs and ferrets.– I think the Meeteetse
people will be thrilled.There will be some that aren’t.But we can’t please everybody.This is an endangered species
that has now made full circle.If they can come back to
Meeteetse, that’s wherethey belong.– I know they’re
all gung ho now todump them out at Meeteetse.Boy isn’t that
going to wonderful?Well maybe.It might not be wonderful
for the ferret though.If they don’t really pay
attention to the food sourceand their health and
the ferrets healthand genetics, it’ll fail againbecause we’re not going
to put the world backlike it was 200 years ago,
it’s not going to happen.– My father died at 92
years old, last year.But I know that he’d
be happy about it.And just knowing that you
had something on your placethat wasn’t available any
where else in the worldwas pretty neat deal.They had something in their
lives that was very specialto them, and therefore to me.– Folks that have been
involved with ferret recoveryhave dreamed about bringing
ferrets back to Meeteetsebecause that’s where all the
ferrets we’re working withcame from.So they’re going back out
today and we’re hoping thata few thousand acres
of prairie dogs will bepurposefully managed
here over a long termthat we can keep plague
at bay, we can havea few dozen ferrets on the
landscape that have youngand replaced themselves
and maybe even grow.And we’ll be able to
add that into our tallyfor a recovery for the
species across the range.(banjo instrumental
with background talking)(cheering and clapping)– [Pete] The real recovery
for the black-footed ferrethas to take place in the
wild, it’s a wild animal.So we have to go back
out on this landscapethat stretches from
Canada to Mexicoand we need to have
ferrets out thereeating prairie dogs
and living and dyingand never even seeing
people but being there.– [Kristine] Over the years,
we’ve lost a lot of speciesthat were all part
of our ecosystems.And why not help the ferret.We don’t know what
intricate part it really isin our ecosystem
until we lose it.(banjo instrumental music)(soft instrumental music)

9 Comments

  • Russell Grant Appling says:

    The dog killed a ferret. So what. Have it stuffed and mounted.

  • Russell Grant Appling says:

    They should introduce ferrets back into the wilds of Yellowstone.

  • Russell Grant Appling says:

    There are thousands of them. But they are nocturnal. And very hard to find.

  • Russell Grant Appling says:

    By trapping the one. You have killed the pups.

  • Russell Grant Appling says:

    The ferrets shall return. But, they shall be snow ferrets. All white.

  • Russell Grant Appling says:

    It's fairly easy to clear up the plague of ferrets. Place out salt blocks with iodine. And the bags that you place out with cattle. To have them rub on them. The flea and tick and fly antibiotic that they can rub on them. Like the cattle do. Only smaller. They will use it. Notice the snake population? It too grows. When the ferret is gone.

  • 5150cc C says:

    Love em!

  • Sassy Sanders says:

    Ferrets are related to badgers and wolverines. My daughter brought home a ferret her friend did not want. She was the sweetest little thing. Her behavior was half dog and half cat. We played with her in a 40 pound empty dog food sack by sticking our hands in and wrestling with her. When my daughter was in pain at night her ferret would crawl out of her bed and lick my daughter's tears and lick the pain areas in her wrists. She died last year. I don't recommend buying one and then locking them up in a cage. Very sad for them. Some can be trained to pee and poop on newspaper with plastic under it.

    Born in Wyoming and I will always think of Wyoming as my state. So proud of you for saving these little creatures.

  • Berg Fish says:

    That was very interesting
    and uplifting.
    Thank You ­čî║

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