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NatGeo, Ferret - ILDLIFE Habitat loss has cut wild...

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Unformatted text preview: ILDLIFE ./ Habitat loss has cut wild black-footed ferret numbers to approximately 700. A reintroduced population of about 250 lives in Conata Basin. u l Ferret Warning The stealthy black—footed ferret lives and dies with the prairie dog. And a plan to poison dog colonies could put many of the ferrets on a starvation diet. Nearly extinct 25 years ago, the ferret lives in prairie dog bur- rows and at night preys on the rodents—its main food source. Unfortunately, ranchers have no love for black—tailed prairie dogs, which eat the grass that feeds cattle. After six years of low rainfall in South Dakota’s Buffalo Gap National Grassland, where 30,000 cattle graze in a year, a few ranchers want help. The US. Forest Service is con- sidering a plan that could allow prairie dog poisoning in the grassland—including Conata Basin, home to the largest group of black-footed ferrets, which have made a fragile recovery after loss of habitat dropped numbers to near zero. "We don’t intend to jeopardize the ferret population," says Don Bright of the Forest Service, who will announce the decision October 1. Conservationists say any action that shrinks prairie dog habitat will harm ferrets— one of America’s most endan- gered mammals. —Tom O’Neill PHOTO: JOEL SAHTORE; MAP DATA: JONATHAN PROCTOH, DEFENDERS OF WILDLIFE ...
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