Last updated on July 7th, 2020 at 12:53 pm
Last Updated on July 7, 2020 Posted by Colonial Acres Coins
Every year, the Royal Canadian Mint releases a six-piece Specimen Set of Canadian coins. The 2020 Specimen Set is groundbreaking in several different ways. Since 2004, the dollar coin in each set has featured the image of a different bird. In 2020, the specimen coin features a mammal for the first time. The RCM is taking the opportunity to raise awareness of the endangered black-footed ferret.
What Is a Black-Footed Ferret?
A ferret is a member of the mustelid family, which also includes badgers, minks, and otters. In some superficial ways, the black-footed ferret resembles the domesticated ferrets that people keep as pets. However, it is a different species. In fact, it is the only ferret species native to North America.
With its long, low-slung body, the black-footed ferret somewhat resembles its cousin the mink, yet is distinguishable by its characteristic black markings on its feet and around its eyes. It is carnivorous and feeds on rodents, primarily the prairie dog. With only about 370 individuals still surviving in the wild, the black-footed ferret is one of the most endangered animals on the continent.
How Did the Black-Footed Ferret Become Endangered?
While black-footed ferrets can feed on rodents, such as mice and squirrels, they rely on prairie dogs for 91% of their sustenance. Prairie dogs dig vast networks of underground tunnels and dens that also provide homes for the black-footed ferret and other wildlife. However, they are destructive to fields dedicated to agriculture. Starting in the 19th century, farmers and ranchers started hunting, trapping, and poisoning prairie dogs. The decimation of the prairie dog population also caused the black-footed ferret to decline. It was believed completely extinct in the late 1970s.
However, a few years later, a dog named Shep turned up a black-footed ferret on a Wyoming ranch. The dog’s inadvertent find launched an investigation revealing a small surviving colony. The discovery launched an international rehabilitation effort that involved capturing 18 pairs of black-footed ferrets and breeding them in captivity for re-release into the wild.
Over the years, the recovery effort has seen a series of setbacks. Both black-footed ferrets and prairie dogs are susceptible to a non-native bacteria that causes a disease called the sylvatic plague. Periodic outbreaks have caused significant losses to both populations. Meanwhile, some farmers and ranchers still regard prairie dogs as pests and seek to destroy them.
In Canada, attempts to reintroduce captive-bred black-footed ferrets into the wild have halted as recovery partners, including the Toronto Zoo, Parks Canada, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, attempt to stabilize the prairie dog population so that it can sustain the black-footed ferret population. However, there are five colonies of black-footed ferrets in the United States that continue to breed in the wild.
The Thoughtful Design of the Black-Footed Ferret Coin
The black-footed ferret is an inquisitive creature. The design by artist Caitlin Lindstrom-Milne captures the curiosity in its bright, beady eyes as it sticks its head up to get a better look. The ferret is surrounded by grama grass of its prairie home. Poised at the edge of a burrow, it surveys the area before ducking back into the safety of its underground home. The Royal Canadian Mint wanted to capture this interesting creature in a way that collectors will enjoy looking and sharing the story of this coin for years to come.
Why Is It Important To Protect the Black-Footed Ferret?
Of all the habitats on Earth, grasslands are the least protected and the most threatened. Biodiversity is the mark of a healthy ecosystem, and the continued existence of the black-footed ferret is a good marker of that.
The fate of the black-footed ferret is tied up with that of the prairie dog. Though a small and lowly creature, the prairie dog is a keystone species without which the grasslands and the many animals that call it home cannot survive. The black-footed ferret also has an important role to play in maintaining the balance by controlling the prairie dog population.
Black-footed ferret specimen sets are available from Colonial Acres Coins. Add to your collection while raising awareness of this important Canadian species.