One of Prairie Park Nature Center’s cutest and longest-lived critters — Pancake, an 8-year-old black-footed ferret — died this week.
The nature center announced Pancake’s passing on Facebook, highlighting the fact that Pancake was the oldest living black-footed ferret in captivity, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Black-footed ferrets tend to live six or seven years in captivity, and less in the wild, said Dara Wilson, the nature center’s interim supervisor.
Pancake came to the nature center six years ago after failing a release program in the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Black-Footed Ferret Conservation Center in Carr, Colorado.
The program was designed to boost the wild black-footed ferret population. The recovery effort involved breeding black-footed ferrets, which are an endangered species, in captivity and releasing them back into the wild. Before the animals were introduced to the wild, they had to demonstrate the ability to capture prairie dogs, their main source of nutrition, and show interest in breeding, Wilson said.
Pancake didn’t quite get with the program.
“They put him through the tests, and yeah, Pancake kind of failed all the tests,” Wilson said. “He wasn’t scared of people, though. He was an imprint. So you know, when he was born in captivity, he probably saw people’s faces and I’m sure they helped feed them. They didn’t purposely imprint him, but he probably wasn’t going to survive in the wild.”
More than 150,000 visitors saw Pancake during his years at the nature center, Wilson said. People would crowd his enclosure, dazzled by his playfulness.
“Pancake was a great educational ambassador,” the announcement of his passing reads. “He would paw playfully at the glass, wrestle his stuffed toys, and hop backward with his mouth wide open, displaying the notable ‘ferret dance.’”
Pancake would demonstrate his carnivorous eating habits to children learning about endangered animals through the center’s educational programming.
“We are saddened at the loss of Pancake, but we hold dear the memories of his long life and the joy he brought to the Nature Center,” the announcement said.
Pancake “touched people’s hearts, inspiring them to care about wildlife conservation.”
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Chansi Long (she/her) reported for The Lawrence Times from July 2022 through August 2023. Read more of her work for the Times here.