The black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) of North America is critically endangered due in part to its extreme specialization on formerly stable and abundant prairie dogs (Cynomys). Its close relative, the Siberian polecat (M. eversmannii) seems to have been subjected to a varying environment that was not conducive to specialization. One source of environmental variation in Asian steppes was plague (caused by Yersina pestis), which was absent from North America. Introduction of plague to North America presents serious challenges to ferret recovery. Partial solutions to other biological and political problems have been found, resulting in improved production in captivity, increased survival post-release, and thriving populations in plague-free South Dakota. ?? 2003 Acade??mie des sciences. Published by E??ditions scientifiques et me??dicales Elsevier SAS. All rights reserved.