PRAIRIE NIGHT by Brian Miller


Black-Footed Ferrets and the Recovery of Endangered Species
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 A surprisingly readable treatise on the black-footed ferret recovery program, by three members of the program staff. Listed as an endangered species, the secretive black-footed ferret had been reduced to a minuscule wild population in Wyoming by 1985, the year a captive-propagation effort swung into action. Miller, Reading, and Forrest gather here the fruits of that project. In a text by turns semiscientific and semipopular, they cover ferret courtship, child-rearing and home life, boundary marking, aggression, and predation. They chart the reasons behind the ferrets' decline: poisoning of prairie dog populations (the sole food of the ferret), disease, habitat destruction. The authors outline the recovery program, from measuring the population to trapping to captive-breeding husbandry to release techniques. All of this is presented in extraordinary detail, be it copulation positions or the way in which a ferret goes about eating a prairie dog. Then they probe the other side of conservation biology: organization structure, legal and technical aspects of the program, the range of personnel necessary (public relations professionals, economists, social scientists, and, yes, pure scientists). And they conduct an autopsy on the failed, or at least frustrated, elements of the effort: the conflicts between the state of Wyoming and the feds, the ego problems among the participants, entrenched public attitudes, the absurdity of the US government paying ranchers to poison prairie dogs and billing taxpayers to save the ferret. There is plenty of hard science here, but the book is leavened with affectingly drawn passages following the progression of a ferret's life. Best of all, the authors provide a blueprint illuminating the complexities of such an effort, certain to be of great use to future recovery programs. The ferret couldn't have asked for three more caring, perceptive champions of their cause.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 1-56098-603-4
Page count: 320pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1996