As development and eradication efforts reduced prairie-dog towns and the black-tailed prairie-dog population, it drove the black-footed ferret nearly to extinction. The black-footed ferret, here emerging from a prairie-dog burrow, is the primary predator of black-tailed prairie dogs.

Photograph by Erica van Manen, MyShot
  • On November 6, 1981, a small population of black-footed ferrets, a species thought extinct, was discovered near the town of Meeteetse, Wyoming. The black-footed ferret is a small nocturnal mammal about 50 centimeters (20 inches) long, with a furry 15-centimeter (6-inch) tail. Black-footed ferrets live in the prairies of the American West, where up to 90% of their diet consists of prairie dogs. A number of factors contributed to the population decline of the black-footed ferret: disease, habitat loss, and the eradication of prairie dogs due to their threats to livestock.
    Since 1991, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service—along with private landowners and zoos—have been breeding black-footed ferrets in captivity and reintroducing them into the wild. Although still an endangered species, the wild population of black-footed ferrets has grown from the 18 animals discovered in 1981 to more than 1,000.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    diet Noun

    foods eaten by a specific group of people or other organisms.

    Encyclopedic Entry: diet
    disease Noun

    harmful condition of a body part or organ.

    endangered species Noun

    organism threatened with extinction.

    Encyclopedic Entry: endangered species
    extinct Adjective

    no longer existing.

    habitat Noun

    environment where an organism lives throughout the year or for shorter periods of time.

    Encyclopedic Entry: habitat
    livestock noun, plural noun

    animals raised for sale and profit.

    mammal Noun

    animal with hair that gives birth to live offspring. Female mammals produce milk to feed their offspring.

    nocturnal Adjective

    active at night.

    population Noun

    total number of people or organisms in a particular area.

    prairie Noun

    large grassland; usually associated with the Mississippi River Valley in the United States.

    Encyclopedic Entry: prairie