Cute Little Creatures with Big, Nasty Teeth--Ferrets, Part Four
I'd like to begin this continuation of ferretsploitation (a word as awkward to write as it is to read) with a shout out to the folks at Prairie Wildlife, Defenders of Wildlife, all the folks at the Wyoming Department of Game and Fish and at the US Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as countless others who put in an amazing amount of effort to protect our natural resources. I'd also like to tip my hat to romance writer Nora Roberts, who in light of a particularly unhappy situation in the writing world (go elsewhere for the details, people, I'm exploiting something else here), is offering to match funds donated for the protection of black-footed ferrets or other species. You are one class act, ma'am.
So on to the next installment of ferretsploitation. You may want to read the previous post, at least, to catch up. Just a suggestion : )
The young female ferret must have smelled the prairie dog in the box under her cage even before the tube was made accessible. Not too difficult, as prairie dogs are, shall we say, aromatic. Ferrets, being mustelids, are no slouches in the stinky department either, and surely the prairie dog was aware of the ferret.
Those of us observing from another room via the closed circuit camera watched the ferret stick her twitching nose out of her nest box. In a matter of seconds, she scurried down the tube to where the prairie dog was being held. There was no delay, no hesitation. This captive born female who had never been out of the protected facility, whose mother and possibly grandmother had never seen the natural light of a Wyoming day, shot into the prairie dog's box and immediately began her attack. (Keep in mind, ferrets weigh 2-3 pounds, as do prairie dogs. Imagine having to go out every night to wrestle and kill something your size, equipped with weapons similar to your own as well as a determination NOT to be your dinner. This is what a black-footed ferret had to do in the wild. Just to eat. Add to that the need to avoid BEING dinner for some coyote, badger or bird of prey.)
There was a blurr of bodies as each tried to gain the advantage over the other. Two sets of teeth and claws, two creatures determined to win the battle for survival. A few yips from the prairie dog, and in under three minutes, it was over.
The female ferret held the neck of the prairie dog in her jaws. On the monitor, we could see her sides heaving. After a few moments, she dragged the rodent back up the tunnel to her nest box where her kits waited.
I think we cheered, quietly as to not disturb the ferrets, and I'm sure there were a few tears. Despite their years in captivity, despite their fragile hold on a place in the world, the survival the black-footed ferret population had just been given a vote of confidence.
After a week at Sybille, I returned to the trailer court in Shirley Basin to finish up release site evaluations. In a few short weeks, the first staging boxes would be placed in chosen areas, the first release candidates collared and brought out to the field. It was an exciting time because we all knew we'd been working on something special. Science isn't always pretty, in fact, it's often downright messy, but it is almost always exhilarating and gratifying.
Next time: Marco! Polo! Ferrets in the field.