PRYOR, Mont. — The 5,000-square-mile Crow Indian Reservation south of Billings welcomed its newest residents with a cattail to represent the Platte River.

The 18 black-footed ferrets were transported to the Crow Reservation on Wednesday, where biologists and wildlife officials hope the endangered species will eventually establish a breeding population.

Marlin Not Afraid, the director of the Crow Fish and Game Department, placed a cattail next to the first burrow where he released a female ferret to signify to the animal that this was its new home. He also spoke to all the ferrets in his native Crow language to welcome them to his homeland.

“The black-footed ferret, my clan uncle told me, is from the Platte River, Casper area,” Not Afraid told The Billings Gazette ( ). “On each side of the Platte River is cattails. He said that’s his homeland.”

A convoy of vehicles brought the endangered ferrets into the heart of Crow Country, where they were released near a hillside prairie dog town.

Officials released 29 of the ferrets on the reservation last year, but only a few survived.

There must be 10 back-footed ferret populations with at least 30 breeding adults for the animal to be removed from the endangered species list. The Crow release site is 26th in the nation since 1991 and the sixth tribal location. The ferrets have also been released at Fort Belknap Indian Reservation in north-central Montana, the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge and the U.L. Bend Wilderness.

Information from: The Billings Gazette,