On September 26, 1981, a cattle rancher in Meeteetse, Wyoming, made a startling discovery. Their ranch dog had hunted down a black-footed ferret, a critically endangered animal that had not been seen in three years, and was believed by many to be extinct. Soon, more ferrets were found on a nearby ranch, leading to a burst of ferret fanatics, and a drive to protect and repopulate the adorable predators.
The black-footed ferrets were placed into a captive breeding program that has successfully reintroduced ferrets into the wild since 1991. On July 26, 2016, in front of a crowd of thrilled onlookers, 35 black-footed ferrets were returned home to Meeteetse. Delivered in two black SUVs, they were released at Pitchfork Ranch and Lazy BV Ranch, and each given a meal of prairie dogs to get them back into their natural spirit.
The population is still extremely fragile, numbering between 350 and 500. Until recently, all black-footed ferrets were raised from the Meeteetse ferret population, particularly one virile ferret named Scarface, who was unusually successful at impregnating females. In 2020, researchers from the United States Fish & Wildlife Service successfully cloned a black-footed ferret named Elizabeth Ann from a DNA sample of a different population, improving the ecological diversity and overall health of the species.
Today, the locus of ferret enthusiasm may be found at the Meeteetse Museums, a complex of several historic buildings dating back to the earliest days of the town. The Meeteetse Museum has a display of the history of black-footed ferrets in the area, including taxidermied ferrets, several displays of information, and ferret memorabilia. Other displays in the museum tell the history of Meeteetse.
Know Before You Go
The museum is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.