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Sat, April 04

Volunteers needed for black-footed ferret count

SELIGMAN, Ariz. - Arizona Game and Fish Department is seeking volunteers to count black-footed ferrets in the Aubrey Valley recovery area west of Seligman Sept. 24-28 and Oct. 22-26.

As part of the black-footed ferret recovery effort, Game and Fish personnel will conduct two fall spotlighting events to determine the population of this group of endangered ferrets.

Spotlighting is the best way to document the elusive, nocturnal ferrets.

"Volunteers play a vital role," said Wildlife Program Manger Jeff Pebworth.

"We don't have the personnel 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. Only 18 were left when captive breeding efforts began in 1985. In 1996, Aubrey Valley was selected as a reintroduction site.

The last two spotlighting efforts reveled lower than expected numbers, which puts increased importance on the fall spotlighting events.

"The numbers were lower, but we don't know why," Pebworth said.

Pebworth said the agency tested for plague, but it came back negative. Other possibilities are that the animals may have expanded their range, or the increased rain has allowed the grass to grow too tall to see the ferrets.

"These fall efforts follow the breeding season, so we're hoping the count will rebound." Pebworth said.

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

"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."

Volunteers need to be able to stay focused from sunset to sunrise and be willing to learn how to use a Global Positioning System (GPS). A parent must accompany anyone under 18. More information can be found by emailing by Sept. 21 for the first effort, and Oct. 19 for the later opportunity. Those wanting to volunteer can use the same email address and provide their name and phone number.

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