Scientific Name: Mustela nigripes
Taxonomy Group: Mammals
COSEWIC Range: Alberta, Saskatchewan
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: December 2021
COSEWIC Status: Extirpated
COSEWIC Status Criteria:
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: This is the only ferret species native to North America. Disease and the persecution of its primary prey, Black-tailed Prairie Dog, resulted in the extirpation of ferret from Canada. Captive-bred ferrets were released from 2009 to 2012 in Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan. Prior to those efforts, this species was last observed in 1937. Insufficient prey resulted in suspension of the release program in 2013, and intensive monitoring has revealed no observations of ferret since then. Although the species is still held in captivity, it no longer occurs in the wild in Canada.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: Extirpated by 1974. Designated Extirpated in April 1978. Status re-examined and confirmed in May 2000, April 2009, and December 2021.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Extirpated
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2003-06-05
Please note that this information is provided for general information purposes only. For the most up to date and accurate list of species listed under the Species at Risk Act, please see the Justice Laws Website.
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Reasons for extirpation |
Recovery Initiatives |
National Recovery Program |
Image of Black-footed Ferret
The Black-footed Ferret is a mink-sized, buff-coloured weasel with a short furry tail and oval protruding ears. Its fur is actually white, but the brown ends of the long hairs on the back give the animal an over-all creamy appearance. A dark chocolate band crosses the ferret's eyes, cheeks and feet; its legs and the last third of its tail are also dark brown. Long hairs on its feet hide the claws, and there is fur on the pads of the feet. The Black-footed Ferret's winter fur is shorter, but glossy and silky. The mean length of an adult male is 533 mm, and its mean weight is 585 g; females are approximately 10% smaller than males.
Distribution and Population
This species is very rare in Canada, and has probably been extirpated. Black-footed Ferrets were found in the western Prairies, to the south of Calgary, Alberta, and south of Regina, Saskatchewan. They are still found in the central part of the United States, adjacent to the Canadian Prairies. In 1997, there were 12 males and 18 females in the Metro Toronto Zoo's captive breeding colony.
Black-footed Ferrets inhabit short grass prairie. They are heavily dependent on Black-tailed Prairie Dogs as their main source of food. The habitat of the two is almost identical.
There is no information available on the biology of the Black-footed Ferret.
Reasons for extirpation
There is only a very small area where the specialized prey of the Black-footed Ferret are found in great numbers; this effectively limits the territory of the ferret.
The Black-footed Ferret is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA).
More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.
Provincial and Territorial Protection
To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.
Status of Recovery Planning
Recovery Strategies :
Name Recovery Strategy for the Black-footed Ferret (Mustela nigripes) in Canada
Status Final posting on SAR registry
PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.
12 record(s) found.
Reports on the Progress of Recovery Document Implementation
This document reports on implementation of the Multi-species Action Plan for Grasslands National Park of Canada between 2016 and 2021. It reports on implementation of measures identified in the plan, assesses progress towards meeting site-based population and distribution objectives, and evaluates socio-economic impacts.
The final Recovery Strategy for the Black-footed Ferret (Mustela nigripes) in Canada was posted on the Species at Risk Public Registry on June 19, 2009. The recovery strategy included a goal and objectives for the species, and a description of activities required to meet the goal and objectives. Under section 46 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA), the competent minister is responsible for reporting on the implementation of the recovery strategy and on the progress towards meeting its objectives five years after it is included on the registry and in every subsequent five-year period, until its objectives have been achieved or the species’ recovery is no longer feasible. This document reports on the implementation of the Recovery Strategy for the Black-footed Ferret (Mustela nigripes) in Canada from 2009 through 2017, and the progress towards meeting its goal and objectives.
COSEWIC Status Reports
The black-footed ferret is restricted to the central portion of North America. In the United States, it is thought to occur from Montana and North Dakota, south through to Arizona, Northern Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma. It is thought to no longer occur in Canada.
Not observed in Canada since 1937. Considered extirpated following its assessment in 1974.
The black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) is a mid-sized member of the weasel family that inhabits grassland ecosystems where prairie dogs are present (Cynomys spp.). Once thought to be globally extinct, black-footed ferrets have been reintroduced in the United States, but remain extirpated in Canada. Historical data suggests the ferret’s range once included southern Saskatchewan and southern Alberta. Recovering and reintroducing black-footed ferrets in Canada will contribute to North American ferret conservation efforts by re-establishing a wild-functioning ferret population at the northern edge of the species’ distribution.
The Minister of Environment is the competent minister under SARA for the recovery of the species on lands covered by this action plan and has prepared it to partially implement the associated recovery strategies, as per section 49 of SARA. To the extent possible, it has been prepared in cooperation with the Government of Saskatchewan (Ministry of the Environment, Ministry of Agriculture, Water Security Agency, Ministry of the Economy) and with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Parks Canada Agency.
The Multi-species Action Plan for Grasslands National Park of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of Grasslands National Park of Canada (GNP). The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species At Risk Act (SARA s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur at this site. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at GNP.
COSEWIC Annual Reports
2009 Annual Report to the The Minister of the Environment and the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
Permits and Related Agreements
One of the objectives of this study is to count the number of black-footed ferrets present on the Canadian black-tailed prairie dog towns and determine which individuals are present following re-introductions into Grasslands National Park. This objective involves the use of nocturnal spotlighting techniques to survey for the presence of ferrets. Survey crews will traverse each prairie dog colony on foot sweeping the terrain with a 1,000,000 candle power spotlight looking for the eye shine of ferrets. Once a ferret is spotted, a ring microchip scanner will be placed over the burrow the ferret was seen at, which will read the transponder code from the chip (12mm Fecava, Avid Canada, Calgary AB) that was placed subcutaneously in the ferret prior to release.
The overall goal of this project is to monitor the health and viability of the newly established population of black-footed ferrets in GNP area and to collect key information that will guide subsequent management actions for ferrets. A specialized Tomahawk style live trap will be placed at the prairie dog burrow where a ferret was observed. The trap is covered with a cloth and checked at a maximum of 1 hour intervals. Once caught, the ferret is transferred to a transport tube and conveyed by foot and/or vehicle to a dedicated area designed for ferret anaesthesia and processing.
Black-footed ferrets are anesthetized by placing them in a clear Lexan induction chamber connected to an isoflurane vaporizer and bottled oxygen. Once induced, ferrets are removed from the induction chamber and placed on a mask delivering isoflurane and oxygen depending on anesthesia depth. Blood oxygen saturation levels and pulse rates are monitored along with observing respiration rates. PIT tags are injected with a pre-loaded, sterile syringe. Blood (2.0-3.0 ml) is collected from the jugular vein or from the pulmonary vena cava. Vaccinations are administered subcutaneously along the back of the neck or upper back along with a prophylactic subcutaneous dose of penicillin G procaine. Hair samples for genetic analyses are plucked from the tail. Temporary marking will be done by placing a temporary dye mark using hair coloring on the neck or top of the head to indicate that the animal has previously been handled. Typical processing time is 15-20 minutes for the implants of 2 PIT tags (neck and rump area), blood, hair and flea collections, vaccine administrations, dye-marking, health inspection and weighing. Recovery from anesthesia usually takes 4-8 minutes and occurs in a cat carrier with a towel and when complete, the animal is released back in the same prairie dog burrow where it was caught.
Both the canine distemper and plague vaccines require administration of a priming dose, followed up at least 30 days later with a booster dose, in order to produce sufficient immunity. The priming dose is given during the first capture event while the ferret is anesthetized for PIT tag marking, blood collection, etc. During a follow up trapping session more than 30 days later, ferrets are located again and trapped in the same manner, but it is not necessary to anesthetize them again. The subcutaneous injections can be administered through the trap, along with using a long cotton swab to apply a hair dye mark. This handling occurs at the trap site and the animals are released after the few minutes it takes for this processing.
Ferrets will be trapped over a two-week period using Tomahawk style live traps that will be placed at the burrow entrance where ferrets are observed. Observations are made using spotlight searching at night on prairie dog colonies within the GNP area. Traps are covered with canvas and checked every hour. Once caught, ferrets will be transported in specially made carriers by foot or by vehicle to a mobile veterinary clinic where they will be anaesthetized and processed. Ferrets are anaesthetized by placing them in a clear Lexan induction chamber connected to an isoflurane vaporizer and bottled oxygen. Once induced, ferrets are removed from the chamber and placed on a mask delivering isoflurane and oxygen. Blood oxygen saturation and pulse are monitored and respiration rate observed. Physical parameters measured and general health assessed. The ferret is combed to detect and collect fleas. PIT tags are injected with a pre-loaded, sterile syringe. Blood (2.0-2.0 ml) is collected from the jugular vein or from the pulmonary vena cava. Vaccinations are administered subcutaneously along the back of the neck or upper back, along with a prophylactic subcutaneous dose of penicillin G procaine. Hair samples are taken from the tail for genetic analysis. Temporary dye marks using hair colour are placed on the neck or top of the head to identify animals that have been previously handled. Typical processing time is 15-20 minutes for anaesthesia and processing. Ferrets are placed in cat carrier with bedding to recover from anaesthesia, which usually takes 4-8 minutes. When recovered, ferrets are released into the same burrow from which they were caught. Vaccines for canine distemper and for plague require a priming dose followed by a booster 30 days later to produce sufficient immunity. For this reason, a follow-up trapping session is held >30 days later. Ferrets trapped for a second time during this follow-up session do not require anaesthesia; instead vaccines are administered and dye-marks applied through the trap at the site of capture before being released.
Critical Habitat Descriptions in the Canada Gazette
The Black-footed Ferret (Mustela nigripes) is a species listed on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act as extirpated. Critical habitat for the Black-footed Ferret is identified within the final Recovery Strategy for the species as the limits of the Black-tailed Prairie Dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) colonies in Canada based on their boundaries mapped in 2007.