Once considered the most endangered mammal on the planet, the black-footed ferret continues its climb toward recovery in Arizona’s Aubrey Valley.

As part of this recovery effort, the Arizona Game and Fish Department is seeking volunteers to assist with two spring spotlighting events; the method used to document the population of this elusive, nocturnal, and endangered carnivore.

The Black-footed Ferret Recovery Project personnel are experimenting with a new method in 2013, conducting two shorter spotlighting efforts instead of five consecutive nights. The first spotlighting effort will be from March 28-30 and the second from April 25-27. Those wishing to assist can volunteer for just one evening or multiple nights.

The effort is held at the black-footed ferret recovery area in Aubrey Valley, located just west of Seligman.

“Volunteers play a vital role,” 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 the last decade, black-footed ferrets in Aubrey Valley have reached a population high enough to be considered self-sustaining, meaning no captive-bred ferrets are needed to maintain a population. The ferret reintroduction crew documented a record 123 individual ferrets in 2012.

The reintroduction of these specialist carnivores in Arizona was possible because of the state’s Heritage Fund which, when matched with federal dollars, accounts for the project’s funding. This, along with the dedication of volunteers, has made Arizona’s reintroduction effort a model for other sites to emulate.

“To this point, the black-footed ferret is an amazing success story,” Pebworth said. “All the ferrets in the wild today are the offspring of just seven males and 11 females. To see population records set the last four years in Aubrey Valley is gratifying. Our crew, along with the dedicated volunteers, has played a critical role throughout the recovery process.”

Volunteers can witness the processing of the animals, which allow researchers to understand population, longevity, and movement throughout the range.

Volunteers must be able to stay attentive from sunset to sunrise and be willing to learn how to use a Global Positioning System (GPS). A parent or guardian must accompany any youth under 18.

“This is an opportunity to see the amount of effort involved with this reintroduction,” Pebworth said. “Not to mention the chance to see an animal few others have ever seen in the wild.”

Those wishing to volunteer, or needing more information, should e-mail azferret@azgfd.gov by March 22 for the earlier effort and by April 19 for the later opportunity. Please write “Spring Spotlighting” with “March,” “April,” or “Both” 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, headlamp, pen, binoculars, walkie-talkies, 4×4 vehicle (please list passenger capacity), compass, or a spotlight that is either rechargeable or can plug into a cigarette lighter.

It can be cool, 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.”

Image courtesy Arizona Game and Fish Department

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