Helping The Black Footed Ferret

By Rod Vaughn

The Lower Brule Sioux Reservation lies on the western bank of the Missouri River in central South Dakota. The 221,646-acre Reservation has historically been home to an abundance of wildlife.  The Lower Brule Sioux people have been part of this rich web of life for generations.  However, during the last two centuries the people and the environment of the Reservation have endured many hardships brought on by ill-conceived government programs, unmet promises, and broken treaties.  Today, those on the Reservation suffer from the impacts of a reduced land base and degraded environment.

The Lower Brule Sioux Tribe Department of Wildlife, Fish and Recreation has already begun restoring ecological balance on the Reservation.  Through the Department’s programs, several indigenous species have been restored; including the buffalo, elk, wild turkey, sweet grass, and numerous other native tree and shrub species.

The Lower Brule Sioux Tribe Department of Wildlife, Fish and Recreation, with funding support from the Maka Foundation, is preparing to reintroduce another indigenous species, the black-footed ferret, one of the rarest and most endangered mammal species in North America. In the Lower Brule Sioux’s native Lakota language, the black-footed ferret is called Itopa Sapa.  The Lakota considered the black-footed ferret to be elusive and thus difficult to kill.  Lakota people believed that whoever killed one would surely die.  For this the Lakota admired the ferret and emulated them to gain their powers.

Beginning this fall (2006), Lower Brule Sioux Tribal member and Wildlife Biologist Shaun Grassel will oversee and coordinate the reintroduction of the black-footed ferrets to tribal lands. 

The short-term goal is breeding of the first wild-born generation of black-footed ferrets on the Lower Brule Sioux Reservation.  The long-term goal is a self-sustaining black-footed ferret population that has survival and recruitment rates similar to other wild self-sustaining populations.

All black-footed ferrets will be micro-chipped and monitored by conducting a spotlight search of prairie dog colonies and capturing observed animals for identification.  Funding is needed to support a field crew and direct monitoring expenses.  The field crew consists of one full-time technician, one seasonal technician, and one full-time biologist.  Monitoring expenses includes vehicle costs and maintenance, and purchasing vaccines and microchips.

This project will help more than just the environment.  It also generates jobs, creating revenue within the Reservation where poverty and high unemployment are major social problems.

You can support the reintroduction of the black-footed ferret through your tax-deductible donation to the Maka Foundation, a 501 (c) (3) non-profit.  Donations can be marked, “For the Ferrets” and mailed to the address below, or may be made from a secure link on the Maka Foundation website,  Those interested in participating in this project’s fieldwork first-hand are invited to contact Maka Foundation Executive Director Rod Vaughn for more details.  He may be reached at 605-473-8016.

Maka Foundation
P.O. Box 807
Lower Brule, SD 57548


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