It's hard to see black-footed ferrets during the day, as they're largely nocturnal creatures. Travel to Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota this summer, however, and you just might be able to glimpse one of these rare critters, as rangers are leading nighttime hikes to go in search of ferrets.
Black-footed ferrets were considered extinct until 1981, when Shep, a ranch dog, trotted back home in Meeteetse, Wyoming, with one in its mouth. That led to the discovery of a colony of the weasel-like creatures, and a recovery program launched by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department soon found itself with a quickly growing ferret population. That led to several recovery programs in the wild, one of which was staged at Wind Cave National Park just two years ago this month.
These special ranger programs begin at the Elk Mountain Campground at 9 p.m. on Tuesdays and Saturdays. After a brief presentation, the group will car caravan to a nearby prairie dog town where the ranger will lead the group across the prairie. The program ends at 10:30 p.m. Visitors are encouraged to bring a flashlight, long pants, good hiking shoes, and dress for the weather. These special night hikes are offered through August 15.
“We had a very enthusiastic response from visitors who participated in these hikes last year,” says Wind Cave Superintendent Vidal Davila. “While only one hike saw a ferret, others were amazed at seeing the Milky Way for the first time, another group came over a hill and discovered a herd of elk, and every group remarked what a unique experience it was being out on the prairie at night.”
Searching for ferrets isn't the only nighttime activity at Wind Cave National Park. Park rangers present evening campfire programs every night on a variety of topics. These 45-minute programs begin at 9 p.m. through August 15 and at 8 p.m. from August 16 through September 7.
For more information on any of these programs, visit www.nps.gov/wica or call 605-745-4600.