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A Little Person’s Inspiration: The Black Footed Ferret

May 15, 2015
Photo by Ryan Hagerty, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Photo by Ryan Hagerty, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Yesterday was one of those special, “for the memory book” days with my seven year-old daughter. Following my keynote the night before, as the opening ceremony speaker for Spring Into Yellowstone at the Buffalo Bill Cody Center of the West, the curator told us a black footed ferret would be at the museum the next day. Our plans were set.

The next morning as we toured the Draper Museum of Natural History, which is a celebration of all things wild throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, my daughter was awestruck by the immense nature of the exhibits. We shared a fun moment when the curator, who was giving us a private tour, led us to the grizzly bear exhibit and turned on a bear education film featuring yours truly. Wide-eyed and full of wonder, it was apparent Kamiah recognized the power of calling one of the most important ecosystems on our planet home. This, of course, made me one proud dad.

Throughout the tour, I could see Kamiah’s mind wandering elsewhere. The destination of her reveries became clear when the tour concluded and she immediately turned to me. “Can we go see the black footed ferret now?”

Watching my daughter peer into the sleepy eyes of a female ferret—an animal under assault from years of habitat destruction, trapping, and now, a treacherous plague that threatens to wipe her species off the face of the planet—I couldn’t help but dive into my endangered species sermon with my daughter.

With our human population booming, clean energy relegated to the backburner, fracking expanding and species declining, we’re living in the midst of the Sixth Extinction. Species are disappearing at an alarming rate. Scientific circles around the globe estimate that upwards of 200 species per day are going extinct. This is absolute insanity.

We can do better. We must do better. Yesterday my daughter marveled at the slinky, muscular body and soulful eyes of a mustelid whose species may soon cease to exist. Where there were an estimated 800 ferrets in the wild as of 2009, the story of the black-footed ferret has taken an ominous turn. According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service biologist present at the exhibit, she is one of approximately 250 black-footed ferrets in captivity awaiting release to support the population of less than 300 black-footed ferrets that now survive in the wild. Less than 300. Sit with that for a moment. Less than 300.

It would be impossible for any lover of nature there that day observing her movements and sense of curiosity to not immediately become an advocate of the black-footed ferret. Watching her chest rise and fall with each breath, more keenly aware of her species’ ecological importance on the landscape than ever, all I could think of was that haunting number. Less than 300. Whether the number is 800 or 300 isn’t relevant. What’s relevant is the fact that the black-footed ferret is on the brink of extinction and we two-leggeds are driving the train carrying it there.

We must become a voice for the voiceless. Whether advocating on behalf of the big or small, we must speak louder, fight harder and support organizations that are advocating for a more just, verdant and wild world.

My daughter couldn’t understand the significance of less than 300. To her seven-year old brain, that seemed like a lot. But when I helped her understand how close we are to losing the black-footed ferret as a species, her facial expression saddened and her mind clearly began to race. Looking back at the ferret, this time her eyes held more concern than wonder.

“Daddy, we can’t let the black-footed ferret go extinct! They belong here.”

Those simple, short but powerful words tell the story of this day: Endangered Species Day.

We have a moral and ethical responsibility to honor our wild world by advocating on its behalf. We become outraged by social injustices when our fellow man and woman are not treated with dignity and respect. But the story of the black-footed ferret and so many other winged, four-legged and finned members of our wild world is critically deserving of all of our attention. Though the ferret had no voice, I sensed that my daughter Kamiah knew she was there, at that exhibit, as a champion of her species. It is my hope, and my belief, that my daughter’s sense of injustice will ignite the fire in her belly to become an active participant in a critically important cause:  that of saving the black-footed ferret.

~Michael W. Leach

To support the leanest, meanest and most effective nonprofit on the ground working on behalf of endangered and threatened species like the black-footed ferret visit: www.wildearthguardians.org

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