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Science and Innovations

Earth Notes: Monitoring One of North America’s Rarest Mammals

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Arizona’s Aubrey Valley just west of Seligman is home to an animal until recently considered one of the most endangered mammals in the world.

The black-footed ferret was thought to be extinct — until a population of just 18 animals was discovered in Wyoming in 1981. Since then captive breeding efforts combined with a reintroduction program in several western states and Mexico have seen the population recover enough to be considered self-sustaining.

One recovery effort has been led by the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Captive-bred black-footed ferrets have been reintroduced into the Aubrey Valley, a high-desert grassland with high densities of their favorite prey: prairie dogs. And, help from dedicated members of the public has played a critical role in this program.

Every fall Game and Fish recruits volunteers to help out with an annual spotlighting event — when high-powered lights are used to help locate, trap and count nocturnal wild ferrets.

Participating in the spotlighting surveys provides the best opportunity for the public to view these rare animals. They emerge from below ground to investigate the bright lights, their emerald green eye-shine helping the survey team to locate and trap them. Captured ferrets are measured, tagged and vaccinated against bubonic plague before they’re released.

If you’re prepared for a dusk-to-dawn adventure out in the Aubrey Valley, get in touch with the Arizona Game and Fish Department and learn how you can play your part in the recovery of this elusive and endangered carnivore.

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