Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Major Ferret Find!
The black-footed ferret was declared extinct at least twice before being rediscovered by a mixed-breed dog named Shep who dropped one on the porch of his house in Wyoming. Conservation biologists have put enormous effort into breeding them in captivity (there's a colony at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo here in my hometown of Colorado Springs) and releasing them into the wild. A biologist from Columbus, Ohio has found something startling and potentially very important: a new wild population. Over fifty miles from any relocation site, Mike Gutzmer found three ferrets on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in South Dakota. While the status of the ferrets is still being double-checked, the chance of introducing new genes into the population - all known ferrets are descended from 18 animals taken into captivity in a last-ditch effort to save the species - is exciting biologists. A "population bottleneck" is never a healthy thing, since the individuals bred from a small group will likely share some genetic weaknesses. Gutzmer may have made a giant step toward the permanent survival of the little black-masked outlaw of the prairies.