Toronto 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.
“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 (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 700 – 800 grams and adult males 900 – 1,000 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)