Numbers drop in 2014, but no cause for concern

The Arizona Game and Fish Department along with a diverse group of volunteers completed the annual black-footed ferret spotlighting season in October.

Spotlighting, the method used to document the endangered black-footed ferret, involves the use of high-powered spotlights which reflect the emerald green eyeshine of the small specialist carnivore.

The fall numbers included the capture of 34 individual ferrets. When combined with the spring numbers, the total for 2014 was 50 individuals, a noticeable drop from the 98 captured in 2013 and the record of 123 in 2012.

While the numbers might lead some to wonder, project supervisor Jennifer Cordova isn’t surprised at the drop.

“There are a number of possible reasons,” she said. “Among those was the strong monsoon rains in the Aubrey Valley. The vegetation grew quite tall and this makes finding ferrets and prairie dog burrows quite difficult. Another possibility was the impacts of a dry winter and spring.”

Over 90 percent of a ferret’s diet is prairie dog. They then use those burrows for shelter and to raise their young.

The black-footed ferret remains among the most endangered mammals on the planet. Despite the drop in the minimum population, the reintroduction site located just west of Seligman, continues to support a self-sustaining population, meaning no captive bred ferrets are required to supplement the population.

“The 50 we counted this year is what goes down as the minimum population,” Cordova said. “While it is likely the number is substantially higher, we only document those that were captured and do not speculate or guess at an overall population.”

Public support for the project remains strong. A total of 65 volunteers helped with the September spotlighting effort and 85 provided support in October. Individuals came from Arizona, Delaware, Ohio, Georgia, California, Texas, Utah, and from as far away as Mexico City, Mexico.

“I can’t say enough about the support we’ve received from the public with the black-footed ferret reintroduction,” Cordova said. “While some were repeats, we had 311 volunteers and many of those people were new to spotlighting. There are no better words for their support than ‘thank you.’”

Anyone interested in volunteering to assist in the documentation of these animals next year can e-mail the reintroduction crew at with “spotlighting” in the subject line to receive additional information.   back...
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