Extinct & Almost Extinct: Black-footed Ferret

Below is the painting and text of one of the animals in my ongoing project, Extinct & Almost Extinct: 50 Paintings.

Black-footed Ferret, 12" X 12", acrylic on paper, 2015, Mark W.McGinnis
Black-footed Ferret, 12″ X 12″, acrylic on paper, 2015, Mark W.McGinnis

Black-footed Ferret
This member of the weasel family is the only ferret native to North America. They are 18 to 24 inches in length with short legs and large front paws for digging. They have a large head with strong jaws and teeth to consume their prey, which is almost exclusively prairie dogs. These nocturnal hunters may consume as many as 100 prairie dogs a year. They live in vacant prairie dog burrows and are solitary animals except in breeding season. The raising of their young is done exclusively by the females.

The ferret’s food supply diminished rapidly as settlers moved into the 500,000 square miles of American prairies where the prairie dogs lived. The prairie dogs were considered pests and in the beginning of the 20th century they were poisoned to the point where only small, scattered populations were left. The population of the ferrets decreased proportionately. In addition to the loss of their food source the ferrets also suffered from the spread of sylvatic (bubonic) plague and canine distemper.

The last known wild population of black-footed ferrets was in Wyoming. Some were captured to start a breeding program in 1987 which saved the animal from complete extinction. Extensive efforts of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, state agencies and zoos have led to the ferret being reintroduced in selected surviving prairie dog sites with some success. Goals have been set and strenuous efforts continue to further establish the black-footed ferret in the wild.


Extinct & Almost Extinct: Takhi

Below is the painting and text of one of the animals in my ongoing project, Extinct & Almost Extinct: 50 Paintings.

Takhi, 12" X12", acrylic on paper, 2014, Mark W. McGinnis
Takhi, 12″ X12″, acrylic on paper, 2014, Mark W. McGinnis

saved from extinction

Today, the Takhis breed is the only surviving wild horse and is a genetically separate species from all other horses. Takhis means “spirit” in Mongolian and the horse is a symbol of Mongolian national heritage. They are a compact horse with strong necks and heavy limbs. Twenty thousand years ago people painted Takhis on the walls of Lascaux cave in France. For nearly 10,000 years they ranged over much of the plains of northern Asia, living in harem groups with a dominate stallion. However, by 1800, their range was reduced by humans grazing domesticated animals and hunting Takhis for meat. Before 1878, when a Polish explorer discovered Takhis in a remote area of Mongolia, these horses were thought to be extinct by the western world. Between 1880 and 1909, 52 foals were brought to the west and put in zoos. In 1968 the last wild Takhi was seen in Gun Tamga, Great Gobi B area and the horse was declared extinct in the wild.

Records show that surviving Takhis are all descended from twelve animals brought to western zoos before 1909. From this group, successful breeding programs were developed in North America, Europe, China and Australia. By trading animals the widest diversity was achieved. In 1992, an enclosure was set-up in Gun Tamga, Great Gobi B to reacclimate zoo-bred Takis to the harsh Mongolian climate and to teach them to live independently. By 1997, this program was successful enough to open the enclosures and allow the Takhis to roam freely. A few zoo-bred Takhis were added to this group to expand genetic diversity, but most of the herd growth has been through new foals born in the wild. Of the approximately 2,000 Takhis living today, about ninety live in the 4,600 square mile preserve in the Gun Tamga, Great Gobi B. Another eighty live in preserves in Le Villaret, France and Khomyn Tal, Mongolia. The rest are in zoos around the world.