AboutZoos, Since 2008


A good sup­ply of endan­gered black-​footed fer­rets deliv­ered by Toronto Zoo

pub­lished 10 July 2016 | mod­i­fied 10 July 2016

Black footed ferret kits TorontoZooToronto Zoo has been par­tic­i­pat­ing in the con­ser­va­tion breed­ing pro­gramme for the black-​footed fer­rets since 1992. Since then, the Zoo has bred hun­dreds of baby fer­rets (kits) for rein­tro­duc­tion to the wild in USA, Mex­ico, and Canada where they were listed as extir­pated in 1978. This pro­gramme is sig­nif­i­cant as Toronto Zoo re-​established an extir­pated, North Amer­i­can species back into the prairies.

The black-​footed fer­ret was once thought to be extinct in the wild.
Maria Franke, Cura­tor of Mam­mals, Toronto Zoo »

Sav­ing species at risk like the black-​footed fer­ret is only pos­si­ble through part­ner col­lab­o­ra­tion and the suc­cess of inter­na­tional fer­ret recov­ery demon­strates how work­ing together can have a big impact on sav­ing crit­i­cally endan­gered species,” says Franke.

The black-​footed fer­ret
The black-​footed fer­ret (Mustela nigripes) is listed as Endan­gered accord­ing the IUCN Red List of Threat­ened Species™. The US Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice devel­oped and over­sees the Black-​Footed Fer­ret Recov­ery Pro­gram. The Asso­ci­a­tion of Zoos and Aquar­i­ums’ Species Sur­vival Plan man­ages the black-​footed fer­ret breed­ing pro­gramme at ex situ facil­i­ties, such as zoos and breed­ing cen­tres, with a breed­ing pop­u­la­tion com­posed of about 300 animals.

This year, Toronto Zoo has 16 adult fer­rets. One female, named Twi­light Sparkle after a My Lit­tle Pony char­ac­ter, gave birth to four kits (three males and one female) on 16 April 2016. Kits are born blind, hair­less, and are less than 10 cen­time­tres long. Twi­light Sparkle was instantly a very good first-​time mother, nurs­ing and pro­tect­ing her babies. The kits weaned at approx­i­mately 30 days of age and started eat­ing meat brought over by their mother. A week or so after wean­ing, their eyes started to open and they began to explore their sur­round­ings. Now at 73 days old, their per­son­al­i­ties are strong and they are very active and chatty. The kits had their first vet­eri­nary check-​up last week and are all healthy with beau­ti­ful adult colours. They are full grown and the boys already weigh more than their mother, adult females weigh 700800 grams and adult males 9001,000 grams.

Toronto Zoo black-​footed fer­ret kits at 50 days old:

(Source: Toronto Zoo YouTube channel)

On 13 June, another female named Indigo gave birth to six kits, though two appeared to have been still­born. Six kits would have been a large lit­ter size, espe­cially for Indigo being a first time mum. Mother and kits have been doing very well so far.

Four other females bred this year; three did not become preg­nant. The remain­ing female, named Fid­dle­sticks, gave birth on 22 June to one kit. Females can have between one and seven kits, with an aver­age lit­ter of three to four, so this is a small lit­ter but not uncom­mon. Fid­dle­sticks is an expe­ri­enced mother and not both­ered by a sin­gle noise in the barn.

In the fall, kits will go to the National Black-​footed Fer­ret Con­ser­va­tion Cen­ter in Col­orado to pre­pare for release into the wild. They will live in out­door pens and learn valu­able skills such as hunt­ing prairie dogs.

Appar­ently Toronto Zoo is con­tribut­ing sub­stan­tially to the con­ser­va­tion breed­ing pro­gramme for the black-​footed fer­rets, which has helped restore the wild pop­u­la­tion to approx­i­mately 300 ani­mals. How­ever, due to habi­tat loss and dis­ease the still small pop­u­la­tion of this fer­ret species in the wild con­tin­ues to need support.

(Source: Toronto Zoo press release, 29.06.2016)

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Tiger map” (CC BY 2.5) by Sander­son et al., 2006.

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