Black-footed ferret ambulance unveiled at Mills Elementary by contest winner Aspen Scherck

By Kristy Bleizeffer May 10, 2016

Contest winner Aspen Scherck of Mills Elementary pulls the tarp off the new black-footed ferret ambulance for Wyoming Medical Center in Casper.

In 1979, scientists declared the black-footed ferret extinct, wiped from the face of the Earth by shrinking habitat and a dwindling number of prairie dogs — its primary food source. Luckily, scientists were wrong.

Aspen Scherck, at left, looks in on Rebus, a ferret from the National Black-Footed Ferret Conservation Center in Wellington, Colo., that cannot be released into the wild.
At top, Colten Sheets speaks with a reporter at the unveiling of his cutthroat ambulance. At bottom, Aspen Scherck poses with her black-footed ferret.

In 1981, a ranch dog near Meeteetse brought a dead ferret to its doorstep, leading wildlife officials to a small colony of live ferrets. Today, the black-footed ferret remains one of North America’s rarest mammals, but it is staging a comeback. Breeding and reintroduction efforts have led to ferret colonies in the Western United States and Canada, and Wyoming Game and Fish hopes to reintroduce a colony in Meeteetse this summer.

And it's all thanks to those few ferrets found in Wyoming 35 years ago.

The black-footed ferret looms large in Wyoming’s story, and we are so excited to add it to the Wyoming Medical Center ambulance herd. Mills Elementary fourth-grader Aspen Scherck unveiled the new ambulance at a surprise pizza party at her school on Tuesday. Her classmates were the first in Casper to see it.

“I was really excited when I found out I won. I started freaking out a little bit,” said Aspen, winner of the 2016 ambulance animal contest.

For years, we have wrapped our ambulance fleet with photos of Wyoming’s iconic animals. They've garnered attention from as far away as Belgium and a German toy maker made an unauthorized model of one. We have 10 ambulances and need to replace one about every year. Each bus stays on the road for almost a decade, driving hard miles as they race to and from emergencies around Natrona County. Forming the strangest of Wyoming animal herds, the black-footed ferret joins our cutthroat trout (winner of last year's contest), grizzly bear, bald eagle, pronghorn antelope, elk, bighorn sheep, moose, mountain lion and bison.

For Tuesday’s unveiling party, we were joined by two very important guests. 

Kimberly Fraser, education specialist at the National Black-Footed Ferret Conservation Center in Wellington, Colo., brought Rebus, a live black-footed ferret who can't be released into the wild. Kimberly also took the photo we used to wrap the new ambulance. The center, run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, breeds black-footed ferrets and works to reintroduce them to the wild.

Renny MacKay, at left, (of Wyoming Game and Fish) and Kimberly Fraser (of the National Black-Footed Ferret Conservation Center) taught students ferret facts before the unveiling. Kimberly shot the photo of the ferret on the new ambulance!

Kimberly has been trying to get Frontier Airlines to put a black-footed ferret on their airplanes for years. Mills Elementary and Wyoming Medical Center just beat them to it: “If you ask children, 'Who knows about elephants? Who knows about tigers?' They all do because we are a very global planet today. But this species, the black-footed ferret, lives in their backyard. It belongs to us as Americans. I love the fact that these kids are looking at a native species found in their backyard," she said.

And Renny MacKay, communications director with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, told Aspen’s school mates about efforts to bring the black-footed ferret to Meeteetse — back to where the story began.

"The black-footed ferret’s recovery is an incredible story and Wyoming plays a central role. I think that for Mills Elementary to help highlight this recovery, and for Wyoming Medical Center to help tell the story by having the black-footed ferret on its ambulance, is something Casper and Wyoming should be very proud of," MacKay said.  

Aspen’s black-footed ferret was one of 170 entries submitted by Natrona County students. A panel of paramedics, hospital staff and school personnel culled those down to 10 finalists, and the public picked the black-footed ferret by popular vote.

She picked the black-footed ferret after doing research on her own pet ferret, Cookie.

"I started to search about how to take care of him, and then I got to black-footed ferrets. Then I found out black-footed ferrets were believed to be extinct until they found a colony around Meeteetse, Wyoming," she said.

Great research, Aspen, and thank you for helping us tell the world about black-footed ferrets.  See all 170 contest entries here, and click on Aspen's entry below to read her essay. 

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