Calgary, AB – On January 18 and 19, experts from across the country have gathered at the Calgary Zoo to review research findings and plan for the future of black-footed ferrets and black-tailed prairie dogs - two species at risk in Canada. Along with the research team from the Calgary Zoo, representatives from Parks Canada, Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS), the Saskatchewan government, US Fish & Wildlife Service, World Wildlife Fund US (WWF US) and the Toronto Zoo are attending.
“Our team is presenting on the black-tailed prairie dog research we have been leading in Grasslands National Park and Parks Canada will provide a summary of the black-footed ferret releases and surveys to date,” said Dr. Axel Moehrenschlager. "However, each member of the recovery team plays a vital role in ensuring a successful reintroduction of the ferrets to Canada."
After being extirpated more than 70 years ago, 34 Black-footed ferrets were reintroduced to Canada in Grasslands National Park in October 2009. This population was bolstered with the release of an additional 15 ferrets in September 2010.
“We are very proud of this amazing partnership to save a once-extirpated species, the black-footed ferret, and it demonstrates what a team effort can accomplish,” said Maria Franke, Curator of Mammals at the Toronto Zoo.
The first wild-born kits were also surveyed in 2010 indicating some initial success in the reintroduced population of the ferrets. Black-tailed prairie dogs are the primary food source for the tiny carnivores and the Calgary Zoo’s researchers have been at work for the past 6 years to ensure there are enough prairie dogs in the park to support the reintroduction of the ferrets.
“Successfully reintroducing any species takes much more work than most people realize,” continued Moehrenschlager. “For example, with the discovery of plague in a black-tailed prairie dog this past summer in Grasslands National Park, there is now an increased focus on plague response and strategies in planning future reintroductions of black-footed ferrets to the park. You have to make sure the whole ecosystem can handle the new species and that everything remains in balance.”
The Calgary Zoo has been involved in species reintroduction across western Canada for nearly 30 years and its researchers are acknowledged as experts in reintroduction science by conservationists across North America. In addition to their work with the recovery teams for black-footed ferrets and black-tailed prairie dogs, zoo researchers focus on swift fox, whooping cranes, Vancouver Island marmots, burrowing owls, and Northern leopard frogs through the generous support of the Husky Energy Endangered Species Program.
CBC TV – The Nature of Things
This important national species-recovery project is being featured on CBC-TV’s The Nature of Things Return of the Prairie Bandit on Thursday, February 10 at 8 pm. “The misunderstood prairie is one of the most endangered ecosystems in North America. Black-footed ferrets are the charismatic representative of the prairies and if we can restore them to the Canadian prairies then it tells us that we have a healthy prairie ecosystem,” notes wildlife biologist Travis Livieri who appears in the film.