Hershey (WHTM) Mitzi is an American marten, part of the mustelid or weasel family, which includes ferrets, stoats, weasels, minks, wolverines, and otters. She’s rather unusual for a couple of reasons. First:

“She’s about an 18-year-old female martin,” says Dale Snyder, the Assistant Director of ZooAmerica. “That’s very old for a marten. So she’s sort of a geriatric marten. They live to be about 11 or 12 years old in the wild.”

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And the other reason?

“Presently this is the only Marten in Pennsylvania that we’re aware of. ”

Martens used to live all across Pennsylvania. But, as logging stripped the state of forest habitat, the Marten population crashed. By 1900 the American marten was extinct in Pennsylvania.

As the lone marten in Pennsylvania, Mitzi is becoming a poster child for a new effort announced by the Pennsylvania State Game Commission, to reintroduce Martens to Pennsylvania.

“The state of Pennsylvania throughout the years has reintroduced a number of animals that were removed from the state for a number of reasons,” says Snyder—the number one cause, habitat destruction. Elk, mountain lion, gray wolf, and American marten were all gone by 1900. By the 1920s beaver and fisher were absent. White-tailed deer, wild turkeys, and black bears survived – but just barely.

“If the Game Commission gets the okay to proceed with the program, which we certainly hope they do,” says Snyder, “They would be getting wild Martins from a number of areas throughout the country and Canada to repopulate the state.”

“They pose very little threat to native wildlife. They eat squirrels, voles, and insects. So there should be a ready source of food for them.”

“I think their colors are beautiful. They have this brown sort of mocha-colored coat and this beautiful orange spot under their neck, and they’re just very active. You come to the zoo and they’re either running around all over the place, or they’re all curled up taking a nap because they’ve used that high energy level to go find things and catch food.”

Will ZooAmerica be a part of the re-introduction effort?

“We hope to be able to be a part of being able to hold them until they’re ready to release them, once they have them,” says Snyder. “One of the issues for Zoo America, one of the things that we’re built on, is we want to do some local conservation efforts to aid native wildlife and to be able to be a part of reintroducing a species that was once a part of our state. That’s just foremost in what we a part of our mission and goals.”

Martens would follow other animals, like otters, which have been reintroduced in the past. There are always concerns about how reintroducing such a species might affect the ecological balance in an area, especially when the species in question is a predator. That is why the Game Commission Is asking for public input about the idea before making a final decision. You can check out its website here. For more detailed information about the Game Commission reintroduction proposal, click here.