Arizona's endangered black-footed ferret population is celebrating a triple anniversary: The 30th anniversary of the discovery of the last black-footed ferrets, a species that was thought to be extinct; the 20th anniversary of the Phoenix Zoo's breeding program to help recover the species in Arizona; and, the 15th anniversary of Arizona's Aubrey Valley being selected as a reintroduction site.
In the late 1970s, the species was thought to be extinct until a small colony of approximately 120 ferrets was discovered near Meeteetse, Wyo. on Sept. 26, 1981. Disease outbreaks reduced this population to 18 individuals, which were captured in 1985 to begin a captive breeding program to save the species.
As one of only six facilities in the world that participate in the species' breeding program, the Phoenix Zoo has produced more than 400 ferrets since it opened its first breeding facility 20 years ago. In 2010, the zoo opened the new Arthur L. "Bud" and Elaine V. Johnson Black-Footed Ferret Breeding Center to better enable them to continue their successful breeding program.
The descendants of the original 18 ferrets have now been introduced into 19 reintroduction sites, including the Aubrey Valley outside of Seligman, Ariz. Before reintroduction, the last black-footed ferret in Arizona was found in 1931 in an area between Williams and Flagstaff.
The Arizona black-footed ferret reintroduction program is a joint effort of the Arizona Game and Fish Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Phoenix Zoo, Hualapai Nation, Navajo Nation, Arizona State Land Department and the Cholla Cattle Company.