The discovery of black-footed ferrets where none were known to exist has encouraged but not surprised federal officials on a mission to bring the endangered species back from the edge of extinction.
An adult and two juvenile ferrets were discovered last week on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. A Nebraska environmental consulting company spotted and photographed the critters during a nocturnal spotlight survey of a prairie dog town.
The masked mammals were found about 70 miles north of the nearest colony of reintroduced ferrets on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation.
Initial speculation by the tribe and the spotters was that the Standing Rock ferrets were a long-lost colony, but that's unlikely, said Pete Gober, coordinator of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's national ferret recovery program.