Black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) mortality was investigated retrospectively based on the pathology records of 107 captive animals held at Smithsonian's National Zoological Park from 1989 to 2004. The majority of deaths in neonates were due to cannibalism (n = 42; 64.6%) and maternal trauma (n = 11; 16.9%); both of these causes of mortality decreased during the study period. Prior to 2001, juvenile mortality was most often caused by gastrointestinal disease (n = 11; 52.4%), including coccidiosis, salmonellosis, and clostridium infection. In 2001, improvements in husbandry, hygiene, and medical treatment led to decreases in juvenile mortality associated with gastrointestinal disease. The most common causes of death in adult ferrets were renal or neoplastic disease. The etiology of the high prevalence of renal disease in the last 4 yr of the study is unknown; it was not associated with increasing age or inbreeding. Improved hygiene and vigilant monitoring for signs of gastrointestinal and renal disease will continue to improve the success of the captive propagation of this species.
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Vol. 38 • No. 2