Ferret Dubbed 'Rarest Mammal in North America' Found in Garage, Re-Released Into Wild

The "rarest mammal in North America" was recently found in the garage of a Colorado home, said Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) officials in a press release on Wednesday.

The mammal—a black-footed ferret—was discovered on Monday by a homeowner in Pueblo West, according to the release.

"The home is near the sprawling Walker Ranch where Colorado Parks and Wildlife has been releasing black-footed ferrets on a prairie dog colony as part of a major conservation effort with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [USFWS] and other partners to restore the rarest mammal in North America," CPW said.

More than 120 black-footed ferrets have been released onto the ranch by CPW biologists since 2013, stated the release. The colony is extensively monitored, and each of the ferrets is microchipped.

At one point, the species was believed to be extinct, said Smithsonian's National Zoo. But in 1981, a small, "isolated population" was discovered.

From that population, individuals "were caught to establish a breeding colony, from which all wild black-footed ferrets are now descended," the zoo said.

According to the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), there are approximately 370 black-footed ferrets in the wild today. Despite conservation efforts, however, "habitat loss and disease remain key threats to this highly endangered species," the foundation said.

Last year, researchers managed to successfully clone a black-footed ferret.

"Cutting-edge science and a blast from the past! Meet Elizabeth Ann. She's the first-ever cloned black-footed ferret, created from the frozen cells of a ferret that died more than 30 years ago," the USFWS tweeted in February, along with several pictures of the cute cloned ferret.

Though Elizabeth Ann has not and will not be released into the wild, scientists are hopeful that cloning could one day help reestablish additional populations in the wild.

When CPW officers arrived at the West Pueblo home, they contacted USFWS biologists, who confirmed that the ferret was, in fact, an endangered black-footed ferret. A portable scanner from a nearby humane society was then used to identify the mammal.

Once it was determined the ferret was healthy, it was re-released onto the Walker Ranch.

"We don't know exactly why this black-footed ferret left the colony," said CPW conservation biologist Ed Schmal in the release. "We put them into prairie dog burrows but they may not stay. Sometimes they scramble around the colony to find the right home. This one might have gotten pushed out by other ferrets and it went looking for a new home. We really don't know."

Black-footed ferret
The “rarest mammal in North America” was recently found in the garage of a Colorado home, said Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) officials in a press release on Wednesday. There are approximately 370 black-footed ferrets in the wild today, according to wildlife officials. kahj19/istock