6 endangered black-footed ferrets born at National Zoo outpost in Virginia

A litter of endangered critters were born at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia, last Saturday.

Aristides, a 1-year-old endangered black-footed ferret, birthed six kits on May 11, the zoo said.

It said animal care staff are using a “temporary live webcam” to monitor the ferrets.

Aristides, the black-footed ferret
Aristides gave birth to six black-footed ferret kits on May, 11, 2024. (Courtesy Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute)

“Starting at four days old, the kits receive regular check-ups to ensure they are developing normally and gaining weight appropriately. When the kits are about 10 days old, animal care staff will perform a neonatal exam and determine their sexes,” the zoo said in a news release.

This is Aristides’ second litter and the third litter for 2-year-old father Thanos. The pair also “produced litters” at the Front Royal facility in 2023. The zoo said also said Aristides is one of 19 breeding female black-footed ferrets residing there.

Black-footed ferret kits are blind at birth, weighing less than 10 grams, with a thin layer of white fur covering their bodies. The signature mask-like markings around their eyes and dark markings on their feet will appear when they are about 3 weeks old, the zoo said.

The kits are expected to open their eyes “at around 37 days old.” The zoo said when the kits are between 45 to 50 days old, “they will begin venturing out of their den and exploring the tunnel systems in their enclosures that mimic the prairie dog burrows in which black-footed ferrets live in the wild.”

Aristides is expected to nurse her kits for about a month before they sample her diet and eat meat.

The kits will separate from Aristides when they are “around 3-to-4 months old,” the zoo said.

Black-footed ferrets, North America’s only native ferrets, were presumed to be extinct until 1981, when the last colony was found near Meeteetse, Wyoming.

The zoo said 1,218 kits have been born at the National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, with over 750 of them reintroduced to the wild since 1989.

The Smithsonian said 48 black-footed ferrets live at their Virginia outpost at this time.

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Matt Small

Matt joined WTOP News at the start of 2020, after contributing to Washington’s top news outlet as an Associated Press journalist for nearly 18 years.

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