Archives On The Air 235: Back From Extinction — Jack Turnell Black-Footed Ferret Papers

Dec 10, 2020

The black-footed ferret is a small weasel-like animal that once occupied the Great Plains.

These reclusive mammals hunt prairie dogs in their burrows.

In 1964 the black-footed ferret headed the list of endangered mammals prepared by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The few that remained were thought to live in South Dakota. By the 1970s the animals appeared to be extinct.

Then, in 1981 a ranch dog in northwestern Wyoming killed one. That led to the discovery of a colony of about 130 ferrets on the Pitchfork Ranch near Meeteetse.

Jack Turnell managed the Pitchfork Ranch and became an advocate for the ferrets. He wrote letters to congress requesting funding for black-footed ferret research.

Thanks to a successful captive breeding program, 49 ferrets were reintroduced into the wild in Shirley Basin, Wyoming in 1991.

Explore the Jack Turnell Black-footed Ferret papers at UW's American Heritage Center.