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The all night search operations with a special mission: finding the endangered black-footed ferrets

connectVideoBiologists, volunteers search for endangered ferret in the night

SELIGMAN, AZ – SELIGMAN, Ariz. — As night falls, a group of well-caffeinated volunteers with high-powered lights to go on a special mission. Five long nights, they carefully search the desert to try and find a small and stealthy creature — the black-footed ferret.

The animal is on the critically endangered species list. So the Arizona Game and Fish Department has enlisted the help of a group of volunteers to search for the remaining make sure they are well maintained and have the right boosters that will keep them alive and healthy.

“Ferrets are nocturnal, so we have the whole night with high-powered spotlights and we search for their green eyes shine, it really is beautiful green like a Mountain Dew can,” said Jennifer Cordova, a Arizona Game & Fish wildlife specialist.

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“We are looking for a ferret outside of his hole. We drive down, and he is curious, looking at the lights, you see those green eyes shine, and then it’s off to the races,” Coonrod said.
(Fox News)

Cordova place volunteers in teams and they break out in different parts of the valley, or driving at low speeds while shining their spotlights on the meadows or through the walking and carrying of high-powered lights. They said it can be rough pulling all-nighters and to search for the ferrets for hours and hours — to no avail.

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The Aubrey Valley, where many of the black-footed ferrets reside, is an area of over 100,000 hectares of pasture and 50,000 acres of prairie dog colonies (prairie dogs are the ferrets’ prey). Holly Hicks, Arizona Game and Fish nongame small mammal projects, said: it is like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

“Ferrets are very curious animals, so some of the best ways to try to follow them and to find them just by driving up and down roads or walking (in) some of these prairies…we could not do this without our volunteers…we are a crew of four people and there is only so much ground we can cover on our own,” Hicks said.

The Aubrey Valley, where the black-footed ferrets reside, is an area of over 100,000 hectares of pasture and 50,000 acres of prairie dog colonies (prairie dogs are the ferrets’ prey). Holly Hicks, Arizona Game and Fish nongame small mammal projects, said: it is like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
(Arizona Game & Fish)

The program is designed to keep the black-footed ferret population. In 2012, they found 123. Last year they found a nine. Officials estimate that there are only 400 black-footed ferrets left.

“That’s a big change from 123 to 9. So, they are still there, they are just harder to find,” Cardova said.

Once black-footed ferrets are found, they are sedated and taken to a processing plant that is located in an RV as veterinarians or officials of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife to check to see if they are chipped and if they need a booster shot. The ferrets are then released back into the wild.

Biologists say they are unsure why the population continues to decrease.

“Ferrets are nocturnal, so we have the whole night with high-powered spotlights and we search for their green eyes shine, it really is beautiful green like a Mountain Dew,” Jennifer Cordova, Arizona Game & Fish wildlife specialist, said.
(Arizona Game & Fish)

“We try to figure out why,” Cordova said. “If it is the disease, and predation, they spread, drought…because we still have a pretty good prairie dog population.”

The black-footed ferrets prey on prairie dogs, so it was once thought that eliminating programs for the dogs, considered a nuisance for farmers and ranchers, were the impact of the fret population.

Now, there was a concerted effort by the state to the reconstruction of the black-footed ferret population.

On a recent day, volunteers make their way to the town of Seligman and met for training on the first night in a rented house in a rural area Arizona game and Fish makes use of for the surgery.

One of those volunteers is Robert Coonrod, who bought a pick-up truck and rigged with lights that are specially made for the night search. Coonrod has been volunteering for five years. Although he is not a biologist, he enjoys helping animals and found a new photography hobby, while volunteering.

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One of the volunteers is Robert Coonrod, who bought a pick-up truck and rigged with lights that are specially made for the night search.
(Fox News)

“We are looking for a ferret outside of his hole. We drive down, and he is curious, looking at the lights, you see those green eyes shine, and then it’s off to the races,” Coonrod said.

Once the animal is spotted, volunteers are turning in the direction of it and set up a trap. But they first have to hopscotch around the prairie dog burrows that dot the landscape.

“Sometimes it can be very entertaining watching people walk across a prairie dog colony, because you so focused on the ferret, that you forget that all those holes in the ground,” Hicks said. “Yes, every one of us has stumbled and fallen into a prairie dog hole after chasing a ferret.”

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With the freezing temperates on the first night of the search around 10 of the volunteers showed up, including Arizona State Univerisity biology graduate Angelica Varela, who will soon be starting an internship with the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies.

With the freezing temperates on the first night of the search around 10 of the volunteers showed up
(Fox News)

“When I started volunteering (for other wildlife organisations) and really learn boots on the ground and the realisation of the hard work that actually goes into it, it is really important and it is really satisfying to know that you have a role in the help of a kind,” Varela said. “If the preservation of the work, I mean we do this so that eventually we will not continue to do that.”

Varela drove from Phoenix with her friend, Brandi capo’s, an Olive Garden waitress and an ASU conservation biology study. She is looking to return to school to get a master’s degree in Geographic Information Systems.

For Varela and the capo’s got their command of Cordova for the night, she said that they had energy drinks and sweets. Varela said she was “pumped.”

With the freezing temperates on the first night of the search around 10 of the volunteers showed up, including ASU biology graduates Angelica Varela and Brandi capo’s.
(Fox News)

Cordova said the goal is to the black-footed ferret from the endangered species list.

“It is important because animals don’t say — they don’t have a voice out there,” Hicks said. “So, it’s people like us who have to manage and try to get that voice out there and people aware. Our passion comes from many places. We love animals. We want to see wildlife in the future for the future generations.”

Only in North America, this wild animal is different from the European “pet” ferrets that are domesticated. The black-footed ferret was once thought extinct until 18 were found in 1981. Since then, recovery, and breeding efforts have contributed to the black-footed ferret population grow.

“I’m sort of feeling that it is our duty,” Varela said, “to help bring back the species that are not threatened in the first place if it wasn’t for us.”

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