This Saturday, Feb. 2. is Groundhog Day, the day when the groundhog officially exits his burrow and announces the future of our winter weather. While groundhogs are found throughout most of the United States, their cousin the prairie dog is a more common resident of our Kansas fields. Prairie dogs may not have special weather-predicting powers but they are an important species for an entirely different reason. Prairie dogs are the primary food of the black footed ferret; an endangered species which often finds itself the subject of heated debates.

Black footed ferrets were once a common resident of the Great Plains and could be found almost everywhere prairie dogs are located. Black footed ferrets are heavily dependent on prairie dogs as a food source so, as poisoning campaigns attempted to eradicate prairie dogs, black footed ferrets suffered as well. In addition to difficulties with their food source, canine distemper outbreaks resulted in the supposed extinction of the species around 1979. Most scientists believed black footed ferrets were extinct until a dog brought a dead black footed ferret to its owner in 1981. Following a study of this surviving colony, several individuals were captured to be bred in captivity and ultimately released to various locations throughout the Great Plains. With cooperation from land owners and conservation groups, reintroduction efforts have resulted in wild black footed ferret populations which seem to be thriving and multiplying well.

Lee Richardson Zoo is excitedly anticipating the arrival of a new black footed ferret which will be on exhibit in the Kansas animals area of the Finnup Center for Conservation Education. We are happy to have housed black footed ferrets at the zoo since 1999. Since this new individual is unable to be released to the wild and is not part of the breeding program, Lee Richardson Zoo has been chosen as the perfect place for this black footed ferret to call home for the next several years. To learn more, visit our new family member as well as our other Kansas residents in the Finnup Center Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. (closed over the noon hour).