A group of volunteers for the Arizona Game and Fish Department will soon be using spotlighting as a way to identify the number of endangered black-footed ferrets living in Aubrey Valley near Seligman.
Two spring spotlighting projects are in the works. The first has been scheduled for late March, and the second for late April. Spotlighting involves using lights to locate and identify the ferrets whose eyeshine is reflected by the spotlight. The method helps surveyors identify and locate the elusive, nocturnal carnivores.
Spotlighting is often used by naturalists to search for animals at night. It involves a hand-held flashlight which makes an animal’s eyeshine highly visible despite a human’s low night vision ability.
Volunteers will be busy simply staying alert and attentive from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. They also will be using a Global Positioning System (GPS) to identify the ferret locations.
“Volunteers play a vital role,” according to Jeff Pebworth, terrestrial wildlife program manager in Kingman. “The program’s continued success depends on volunteers remaining involved.”
Black-footed ferrets are North America’s only native ferret. They are a different species than ferrets found and sold in pet stores, which are a domesticated form of the European polecat.
Ferrets are members of the Mustelidae or weasel family, which also includes otters, badgers and wolverines. All members of this family have anal scent glands, are between 18 and 24 inches long and can weigh up to two and a half pounds.
Spring is an ideal time for the spotlighting project; ferrets mate in the spring during a three-day period. Black-footed ferrets are predators that depend on prairie dogs for food and shelter, and live in the same prairie dog towns in underground tunnels known as burrows.
Two more spotlighting projects are planned for the fall of 2016.
For more information about black-footed ferret recovery, click on Nongame and Endangered Wildlife at www.azgfd.com/wildlife.
— Photos courtesy Arizona Game and Fish Department.
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