A photographic project about the struggle to
save the highly endangered black-footed ferret.
The United Nations recently reported that human-driven activities are threatening up to a million species with extinction. In that context, understanding what it takes to bring an animal back from the brink of extinction becomes even more important. With publication of my book American Ferret anticipated for 2020, I am currently seeking exhibit and publicity opportunities for the project. The book features over 50 of my photographs along with historical ephemera related to ferrets, prairie dogs and land use on the Great Plains.
During the past 150 years, as the native prairie grasslands of the Great Plains have been plowed up, fenced off and covered with roads and houses, a unique tapestry of flora and fauna has been all but lost. Among the species struggling to survive is the black-footed ferret -- twice thought to be extinct, and now one of the most endangered mammals in America.
A top predator species of the Great Plains, black-footed ferrets eat prairie dogs almost exclusively. Since the late 1800s, however, 98% of the prairie dog population has been exterminated by ranchers, farmers and others who consider the animals pests. With the drastic decline in prairie dogs came a decimation of the ferret population. The last 18 wild ferrets were captured in Wyoming in the 1980s in an attempt to save the species. All 800 or so ferrets alive today are descendants of just seven of those captured ferrets. Biologists continue to breed the animals through highly controlled procedures, hoping to minimize inbreeding. Captive-bred ferrets are released into the wild in areas with some of the last remaining large prairie dog populations. But plague, carried by fleas and brought to the New World around 1900, is spreading across the country, wiping out both wild ferrets and prairie dogs. A plague vaccine has been developed, but the species' survival hangs in the balance as conservationists race to find an effective way to get the vaccine to wild ferrets and prairie dogs alike.
[Note: Ferrets sold in pet stores are a different species that originated in Eurasia.]