The Storyteller: Black Footed Ferret
Gather round children and you shall hear a story.
It’s my story, and I share it gladly with you. It is my job to tell this tale to the very best of my ability. It is not my job to certify it as true (or even not true). That is your job, dear reader, to decide whether or not there is any truth to this story. Like all stories that I see fit to tell, I may run off track a bit on this one. I may or may not get back at the end.
I am, after all, the storyteller.
This tale starts in a then old section of Pullman, Washington in 1971. Every story has to start someplace. The locals that I hung out with called the area Reany Park and my best memory of the place was of at least three old victorian homes that housed a population of hippy type students. Saturday night in Reany Park was smokey and fun loving.
A couple of us went up to one of the old Victorians one evening just to visit and swap tales. Turns out one of the residents was a Biology PHD candidate and involved in the Black Footed Ferret Recovery Program.
The Black Footed Ferret was placed on the Endangered Species list in 1967 and by ‘71 was nearly extinct in the wild. Black Footed Ferrets are dependant on Prarie Dogs for life. Literally. They think Prairie Dog is the caviar of the prairies and don’t much like digging so they live in Prairie Dog holes where they have eaten the former residents.
So. This guy showed us a pair of Black Footed Ferrets that were in the conservation program but not currently in the breeding population-that just happened to live in harmony with the hippies in Reany Park.
Now Ferrets are interesting creatures. They are completely ocd in their personal habits like pooping. This pair pooped in a cat pan and each and every turd was placed about a ¼ inch away from the previous one. Perfectly aligned. There were maybe 20 in the pan when I saw it, and both ferrets did it just the same.
The hippies had some 4 inch stove pipe set up for the ferrets to live in, and apparently, lacking any naturally occurring prairie dog holes they adapted well to the stove pipe. The ferrets had their own part of an old sitting room and were occasionally allowed to run the whole sitting room which is where I met them. One of them.
I had smoked a little herbal wonderment (just to be polite you understand. I really was interested in the ferret project and didn’t want to start off on the wrong foot with the humans.) and relaxed on an old love seat with my head on one end and my feet on the other. As I recall, it was a lot more comfortable than it sounds right there.
Remember it was 1971. I was pretty style conscious so was wearing SeaFaire Navy work dungarees. Everybody else would call them bell bottomed blue jeans. Relaxed on the love seat. When a ferret crawled right up the leg of my bell bottomed blue jeans that were dangling conveniently in space. I guess they looked a lot more like a prarie dog hole than that stupid stovepipe…
I jumped. Then I jumped again. That ferret was headed for my crown jewels like a heat seeking missile. I guess when I jumped I scared the beejeepers out of the ferret. I know for a fact he scared the beejeepers out of me. And my stuff.
I got the zipper down and quit jumping long enough for the ferret to jump to the floor and head for the nearest stovepipe. It ended up being a no harm, no foul situation. Though I still flinch wondering if that ferret might have confused my stuff with a prairie dog in the dark. Thankfully we will never know.
And the ferrets? That particular effort at reintroduction failed because the captive population got plague, part of the original problem. They were thought to be completely extinct until a small population was discovered in Wyoming that provided the basis for a second breeding program that has been very successful. There are now over 1000 breeding pair of ferrets in the wild in three different locations. A beautiful little creature brought back from the very edge of extinction.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Mostly. Sometimes.
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