Black-footed Ferret


  • Status
  • Population
    Approximately 370 in the wild
  • Scientific Name
    Mustela nigripes
  • Weight
    1.5-2.5 pounds
  • Length
    18 -24 inches
  • Habitats

Saving rare species from extinction requires extraordinary measures. The black-footed ferret is one of North America’s most endangered mammals. Once thought to be extinct, after the species was rediscovered in Wyoming in 1981, concerted efforts by numerous partners have given black-footed ferrets a second chance for survival. Captive breeding, reintroductions, habitat protection, and cloning have helped restore them to over 300 animals in the wild. Although great strides have been made to recover the black-footed ferret, habitat loss and disease remain their key threats. Biologists estimate that there should be 3,000 adult ferrets in the wild to successfully recover this endangered species.

Why we need The North American Grasslands Conservation Act

To protect and restore iconic grassland landscapes, World Wildlife Fund and more than a dozen of North America’s leading conservation groups are touting the introduction of critical new legislation—The North American Grasslands Conservation Act.

A bison sits aside her calf in the tall grass of the Wolakota Buffalo Range, Rosebud Sioux Reservation

Why They Matter

  • Black-footed ferrets are one of the most endangered mammals in North America and are the only ferret species native to the continent. Their recovery in the wild signifies the health of the grassland ecosystem which they depend on to survive.



  • Population Approximately 370 in the wild
  • Extinction Risk Endangered
    1. EX

      No reasonable doubt that the last individual has died

    2. EW
      Extinct in the Wild

      Known only to survive in cultivation, in captivity or as a naturalised population

    3. CR
      Critically Endangered

      Facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the Wild

    4. EN

      Facing a high risk of extinction in the Wild

    5. VU

      Facing a high risk of extinction in the Wild

    6. NT
      Near Threatened

      Likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future

    7. LC
      Least Concern

      Does not qualify for Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable, or Near Threatened

prairie dogs

Black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) family, mother with her young. Northern Great Plains, United States.

Habitat loss and non-native disease threaten the recovery of the black-footed ferret. The ferret is entirely dependent on the presence of prairie dogs and their colonies for food, shelter and raising young. Without ample reintroduction sites and protection from plague, full black-footed ferret recovery remains difficult.

What WWF Is Doing

black footed ferret release

WWF leads recovery efforts by working alongside tribal communities and their wildlife programs, public land and wildlife agencies, other conservation organizations, universities, zoos and private landowners to remove the black-footed ferret from the list of Threatened and Endangered Species. To achieve this, WWF and partners are: (1) maintaining and enhancing existing ferret populations, (2) identifying and establishing new ferret reintroduction sites, (3) supporting efforts to address sylvatic plague and (4) driving resources to achieving recovery.

Protecting Black-Footed Ferrets

WWF leads recovery efforts by working alongside other conservation organizations, land management agencies, tribes and landowners to build the conditions necessary to see black-footed ferrets reach sustainable levels. WWF and partners maintain existing ferret sites, establish new reintroduction sites by relocating prairie dogs to increase ferret habitat, mitigate sylvatic plague on prairie dog colonies and participate in oral vaccine research to better protect prairie dogs from sylvatic plague.

Restoring Black-Footed Ferret Populations

Prairie dogs

Fifteen black-footed ferrets are being released into prairie dog colonies on the Fort Belknap Reservation in September 2015. Black-footed ferrets were first reintroduced on the Reservation in 1997, but an outbreak of sylvatic plague swept through the release sites in 1999 and decimated populations of ferrets and prairie dogs, the ferret’s main food item. Since then, prairie dog populations have rebounded, new plague management tools are in place, and the Fort Belknap Fish and Wildlife Department, in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund, Defenders of Wildlife and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are working together to return the masked bandit of the prairie to the Reservation. A total of 52 ferrets were released in 2013 and 2014.


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