Relaxing And Recuperating After A Long But Peaceful Week.I currently work with the National Park Service. I spend my winter months as a park ranger doing interpretation and summer months working as a biology technician working with wildlife. I work at Badlands National Park in South Dakota. Badlands NP is home to a variety of wildlife, bison and bighorn sheep are two that I work with. Two other animals that I am evolved with are endangered or near extinction. The swift fox is endangered, but with work being done through the efforts of many private organizations and different agencies, they are making a comeback. The other is the black-footed ferret.
I took this summer job knowing that I would have the opportunity to work with the most endangered land mammal in North America. This last week was spent doing fall surveys on this special animal. This meant going out into the basins where the prairie dog colonies are located to see if we could spot any of these animals. We would go out into the field at 8:00 pm and look until about 6:00 the next morning. Spotlights are used because of the distinct eye-shine produced by the ferrets. The prairie dog colonies are large, meaning that an average of 9 miles will be walked in one night. Our gear and equipment weighed about 65 pounds. This last week consisted of four straight nights of surveying.
Hoping to see some ferrets, we were sure to see other animals like the coyote, badger, burrowing owls, hawks and eagles, deer, and antelope. The moon was almost full the first night out and the temp was in the sixties. I started my trek around the colony, and spotted many deer and antelope early. Later on, I saw a coyote and then a badger. Around 11:00 the coyotes had started to sing. There must have been near three dozen within a mile of where I had stopped to listen. They continued their yipping chorus on and off throughout the night, every night we were out. Later on I noticed another badger, this time about twenty feet away. A little fear set in, but quickly I remembered I was in his home and I must respect that. I thanked him and deviated my path slightly as to not disturb him too much. Occasionally I would observe some more antelope or a deer out for a midnight snack, but most were bedded down in areas that skirted the colony or some of the stream beds that ran through the basin. About 4:00, I glimpsed another coyote running along the top of one of the formations that circled the basin. The silhouette against the breaking of the morning sky made it look as though it was less than a hundred yards but I knew it was more like a quarter mile. I was on my way out, and checking some last patches of prairie dog holes. It was nearing 5:00 and my light caught a narrow set of green eyes peeping from the rim of a hole. I couldn’t believe it, about ten feet from me was one animal from a wild population of less than 500. I placed a reflector near where I spotted it so I could find the area easier during the next few nights without having to get to close and upset it and then I left for the night.
I am kind of happy the week is over, I am a little sore and tired. I only saw the one ferret, but it was a week filled with understanding, accepting, and appreciation. It is a moving experience to hike through the Badlands with just the light of the moon; to climb to the top of a formation and see your shadow from the moonlight 60-80 feet below you; to be able to listen to the chorus of the night, knowing that the coyote may be just a few hundred yards away; and to have the opportunity to see that one animal that so few have a chance to see in the wild.