Reflection into conservation
figureposted on 06.10.2021, 21:59 authored by Emily Potratz
The black-footed ferret is a North American carnivore and one of the world’s most endangered mammals. Once widespread across the Great Plains, they were thought to be extinct in the 1980’s—until a small population was discovered in Wyoming. For the past 35 years, biologists have been working to reestablish self-sustaining wild populations with management and breeding efforts. However, full recovery of the species has yet to be reached due to disease, limited habitat, and a declining fertility trend in the breeding program. My research explores how the ferret’s fertility and reproductive success can be improved naturally, by reinstating the behavior of mate choice into conservation breeding. Male and females explored a “Y” maze with olfactory cues from two opposite sex potential mates at either end. We predicted scent (i.e. feces, urine, pheromones) would contain the necessary information about health and compatibility an individual would need to determine mate quality. In addition to knowing which mate was preferred, we examined olfactory cues, hormones (stress and reproductive), gut health, and genetic profiles to see what constituted a quality mate. This photo is a pair emerging from their nest box for feeding, with a curious neighbor next door.