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WWF Helps Masked Bandit Return to Prairies

Black-footed Ferret Release Photo Gallery

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© WWF-US/ Troy Fleece
The big tops under the big sky for the celebration of the reintroduction of the black-footed ferret at Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan, Canada.

Bozeman, MT: October 2, 2009 – After a 70-year absence from Canada, black-footed ferrets will once again prowl the prairies, following today’s release of more than 30 captive-bred animals into Canada’s Grasslands National Park.   Leading the reintroduction were staff from a dozen different conservation organizations, governments and zoos, including species experts from WWF-US and WWF-Canada.

“Today’s release is testimony to what is possible when we focus on solutions and we don't give up hope,” said Gerald Butts, President and CEO, WWF-Canada.  “Whether the challenge is tackling climate change or saving endangered species, we can succeed when we act quickly to do what needs to be done.”

Once thought to be extinct globally, a small number of ferrets were discovered on a remote ranch in Wyoming in 1981.  More than 6,500 have been raised in captivity in facilities such as the Toronto Zoo and released on sites across its former range in the west-central U.S. and northern Mexico.  Before release into the wild ferrets are trained to hunt wild prairie dogs in a ferret “boot camp” in Colorado.

 “Cross-border co-operation is absolutely essential to the recovery of the ferret and many other endangered wildlife species,” said Steve Forrest, Manager of Restoration Science for the WWF’s Northern Great Plains program and an international representative on Canada’s ferret recovery team.  “Nature doesn’t recognize the borders between the U.S., Canada and Mexico, so our conservation efforts must stretch across those boundaries if we are to successfully restore North America’s threatened grassland ecosystems.”

The ferret release is the first of its kind in Canada and marks the return of the species to all three countries of its former North American range.  WWF experts in both Canada and the U.S. contributed advice and funding of more than $125,000 since 2003 to help its recovery.


“Reintroduction of a species once thought to be extinct, like these ferrets, give us hope that wildlife – and our planet - can be restored,” added Butts.  “We salute Parks Canada and all the partners involved for their extraordinary efforts and for their recognition of WWF’s unique cross-border role in this conservation success story.”

The ferret recovery strategy clearly indicates the critical habitat needed for the species’ recovery.  Only a small fraction of Canada’s endangered species have recovery strategies with their critical habitat adequately defined.

“Extinction is final”, said Forrest. “Through sheer luck, we were given a second chance to save the black-footed ferret.  Working together, Canadian and U.S. governments and their partners have shown it can be done.  WWF calls on the federal governments of both countries to ensure all endangered species have their critical habitat properly defined and quickly protected, before the finality of extinction ends the thread of species that make up the fabric of our natural world.”

Ferrets are members of the weasel family, along with species such as ermine, skunk and otter.  With strong “face-mask” striping, black-footed ferrets are specially adapted to the North American prairies and are unique in nearly always preying upon black-tailed prairie dogs for food.  In Canada, prairie dogs are found only in extreme southern Saskatchewan, principally in Grasslands National Park.

Learn more about our work in the Northern Great Plains

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For more information:
Mara Johnson, Communications Coordinator Northern Great Plains program, WWF-US;  Office: (406) 585-3022; cell: (406) 570-7232

Steve Forrest, Manager for Restoration Science, Northern Great Plains Program, WWF-US;   Cell: 406-581-2663; Blackberry: 202-294-7824

Monica Echeverria, Senior Communications Manager, WWF-US;  Office: (202) 495-4626; cell: (202) 378-3396