PUEBLO WEST — 14 black-footed ferrets were released in Pueblo West Monday.
The black-footed ferret is the rarest mammal in North America.
The mammals were released on the 63,000-acre Walker Ranch; totaling more than 120 of the animals that have been released on this private land since 2013.
The last official record of a wild black-footed ferret sighting in Colorado happened in 1943 near Buena Vista, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
“I really believe that they’re a renewable resource, but you have to build the herds and so on, up to a point to where they can be utilized,” said Gary Walker, owner of Walker Ranches
The mammal was twice believed to be extinct due to widespread poisoning of prairie dog colonies and disease.
Colorado is one of eight states working to recover the species through reintroduction.
“We were down to less than 20 animals in the United States at one point. That’s when they were all trapped and gathered up and the breeding program began. And over the last five or six years, we’ve really started to run with it here in Colorado and release them on public and private land,” said Edward Schmal, a conservation biologist in the southeast region for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
While CPW has no defined process to track the ferrets, they’re trying something new with this release.
“We put out game cameras and we’re hoping to catch pictures of ferrets over the next 30 days, to try and determine their 30-day survival,” Schmal said.
According to CPW, black-footed ferret releases are done in an effort to restore mother nature’s natural balance.
“In 2000, we had an estimated 3,000 acres of prairie dogs. Which over the last 19 years, erupted into close to 10,000 acres of prairie dogs. And as all the people in Pueblo West get mad at Walker Ranches for tumbleweeds, guess who creates the tumbleweeds? In a drought, is the prairie dogs eating the natural vegetation down to an extent to where mother nature takes over and grows weeds,” Walker said.
CPW hopes to see black-footed ferrets’ wildlife reproduction increase over the coming years.