The black-footed ferret is one of the most endangered mammals in the world. In 1986, the last wild ferrets were captured and placed in an intensive captive breeding and reintroduction program. Today, there are approximately one thousand black-footed ferrets in the wild in eight states, plus Mexico and Canada.
Predation of young black-footed ferrets by coyotes is of great concern to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Black-footed Ferret Recovery Implementation Team. To help with the recovery effort, Wildlife Services (WS) operations in Montana and the National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC) launched a pilot study to learn more about the impacts of coyote predation on black-footed ferret survival.
During the summer of 2010, WS district supervisor Mike Foster captured and radio-collared four coyotes on the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge in Montana. In addition, NWRC researchers Dr. Stewart Breck and Patrick Darrow erected electric fencing in three areas to exclude coyotes from prairie dog colonies when juvenile ferrets were emerging and dispersing from dens.
Preliminary data from three radio collars indicate coyote use of prairie dog towns is lower than expected; however, fencing was effective at excluding those coyotes that were present. Researchers also monitored 17 black-footed ferret kits, approximately half of which were located inside fenced areas. All 17 juvenile ferrets—both inside and outside of fenced areas—survived, indicating no apparent benefit of establishing fencing for coyotes.
Analysis of the effort is ongoing and a final report is scheduled for release in spring 2011.
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