The Arizona Game and Fish Department is offering a rare opportunity for people wanting to assist in the recovery efforts of the endangered black-footed ferret.
This elusive, nocturnal animal was once the most endangered mammal on the planet and just 18 ferrets remained when captive breeding efforts began.
Now, from March 17-21, Game and Fish will be conducting its annual spring spotlighting effort and needs volunteers to help document black-footed ferret numbers throughout the Aubrey Valley, just west of Seligman.
“Volunteers have always played a vital role in this recovery effort,” said Jeff Pebworth, wildlife program manager at the Game and Fish Kingman office. “We don’t have the personnel available to fully staff these events, and the program’s continued success depends on people remaining involved.”
Twice thought to be extinct, a small population of black-footed ferrets was discovered in 1981. A mere 18 were left when captive breeding efforts began in 1985. In 1996, Arizona’s Aubrey Valley was selected as a reintroduction site.
In just the last nine years in Arizona, black-footed ferrets in Aubrey Valley have reached a population high enough to be considered self-sustaining, meaning no captive-bred ferrets are released. In 2009, the ferret reintroduction crew documented 60 individual ferrets, followed by a record 96 in 2010.
Pebworth admitted that without the voter-approved initiative, which provides money through the Arizona Lottery, this effort would not have been possible.
“We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished in Arizona,” Pebworth said. “We’re restoring an animal that was absent from the state for about 65 years. It’s gratifying to know we’ve reached a point with this reintroduction where the population has continued to improve.”
Spotlighting is not easy, and Pebworth acknowledges that volunteers earn the right to brag about their participation in the recovery of this animal.
Volunteers must be able to stay attentive from sunset to sunrise, be able to carry up to 30 pounds while backpack-spotlighting for two-hour durations, and they must be willing to learn how to use a Global Positioning System (GPS).
Individuals can volunteer for one or more dates. A parent or guardian must accompany any youth under 18.
“This is a unique experience and provides volunteers with an opportunity to see the amount of effort involved with this reintroduction,” Pebworth said. “Not to mention the fact that people will have a chance to see an animal few others have ever encountered.”
Those wishing to volunteer, or needing more information, should e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org by March 11 with “March Spotlighting” in the subject line. Individuals should indicate which night(s) they are available to help; include a first and last name, a contact number, and if anyone else will be attending with them.
Additional information will be sent following contact, including meeting location and times.
Volunteers should also note any of the following equipment they can bring: GPS, clipboard, backpack (to carry a 30-pound battery), headlamp, pen, compass, binoculars, walkie-talkies, 4x4 vehicle (please list passenger capacity), compass, spotlight (that can plug into a cigarette lighter), or a cordless rechargeable spotlight.
It can be cool during the March event, so individuals need to dress appropriately.
“We’ve made progress,” Pebworth said. “However, it is critical we continue to document ferret numbers and understand how this population is holding up in the wild.”