Luray Parker  /  AP
A black-footed ferret stands alert at the entrance to a den in Wyoming in this undated file photo.
updated 5/2/2006 12:33:26 PM ET 2006-05-02T16:33:26

Encouraged by the successful reintroduction of black-footed ferrets into central Wyoming's Shirley Basin, state wildlife managers plan to release more ferrets into the same area.

Martin Grenier, a mammal biologist with the state Game and Fish Department, told Game and Fish commissioners last week that the agency plans to release 40 more black-footed ferrets in the north and south ends of Shirley Basin, mostly likely in October.

Grenier said releasing more black-footed ferrets close to the established population in the basin should help ensure the long-term stability of the species and bring new blood into the population.

"This also provides some additional security against (possible disease) outbreaks" in the basin population, he said.

The black-footed ferret was officially listed as an endangered species in 1967. Biologists feared the species was extinct before the discovery of a colony on a ranch near Meeteetse in 1981.

From 1991 to 1994, 228 captive-bred black-footed ferrets were released in the Shirley Basin in what was the first-ever reintroduction in North America.

Grenier said a department survey of the basin's black-footed ferret population last summer counted 147 animals and a "peak" of 33 litters.

"From the results of the survey, there appears to be a boom in the population," he told commissioners.

He attributed the booming population to an absence of disease, such as sylvatic plague, increased numbers of prairie dogs, which are a food source for the ferret, and a change in the agency's survey time from the fall to August, when the animal is easier to count.

Last fall, biologists released a total of 140 black-footed ferrets in areas both north and south of the current Shirley Basin population.

Grenier said 69 animals were released on Shirley Rim to the north and 71 near Arlington to the south, and survival rates thus far for the transplants have been high.

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