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Wanted: Ferret spotters for fall count


Courtesy
Jennifer Cordova, supervisor at the black-footed ferret reintroduction project, takes the vitals of one of the captured ferrets, a species that was twice thought to have gone extinct.

KINGMAN - The Arizona Game and Fish Department will conduct the final two black-footed ferret spotlighting efforts of 2013 in September and October and volunteers are needed.

The black-footed ferret, once considered the most endangered mammal on the planet and twice thought extinct, was reintroduced into Arizona's Aubrey Valley in 1996. Each year Game and Fish conducts spotlighting efforts, which is 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 fall spotlighting effort will be from Sept. 19-21 and the second from Oct. 17-19. Those wishing to assist can volunteer for just one evening or multiple nights.

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

"We had set a record with 185 volunteers in the spring," said Jeff Pebworth, wildlife program manager at the Game and Fish Kingman office. "People staying involved in this effort is critical because we don't have the personnel available to fully staff these events."

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. During the spring spotlighting effort, 31 individual ferrets were captured and processed. An additional 57 ferrets were spotted, but not captured.

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. 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 provides the information to document a minimum 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 anyone 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 Sept. 13 for the earlier effort and by Oct. 11 for the later opportunity. Please write "Fall Spotlighting" with "September," "October," 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. Those without e-mail can call (928) 422-0155.

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, 4x4 vehicle (please list passenger capacity), compass, or a spotlight that is either rechargeable or can plug into a cigarette lighter.

Temperatures can be cool, so individuals need to dress appropriately.

"A lot of effort has been put forth in this reintroduction effort and we've seen positive results," Pebworth said. "However, it is critical we continue to document ferret numbers and understand how this population is holding up in the wild."





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