The black-footed ferrets are in a critical situation, so the United States wildlife officials decided that it is time to come up with a better strategy to save this species.
Experts from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service developed a plan to use drones to spread vaccine covered in M&Ms throughout the Montana habitat. Scientists underline that the drones will target the prairie dogs as they represent the primary source of food for the wild ferrets.
Both of these species are highly endangered because of Sylvatic plague that has taken its toll on this environment. The ferrets’ recovery was prevented by this epidemic which proved to be highly deadly.
Sylvatic plague is a devastating disease caused by infectious bacteria known as Yersinia pestis, which usually attacks rodents such as wild ferrets and prairie dogs. According to Randy Machett, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, this plague can wipe out the prairie dog population, meaning that ferrets will die as well.
Even if wild ferrets don’t die because of the disease, they will most likely starve because there won’t be a viable source of food for them. Authorities and wildlife officials have tried many other solutions, but none proved to be effective against this dangerous epidemic.
Machett explained that they tried to drop the vaccine out of bags during walking throughout the animals’ habitat, but it was too difficult to cover the whole area. Then, they decided to spray into the burrows with a special insecticide, but that also proved to be ineffective against the fleas as it cannot be regarded as a long-term solution.
After joining their efforts with private contractors, wildlife officials developed a special gumball machine which would be used to spread the M&Ms-covered vaccine throughout the contaminated area. The vaccine will be mixed with peanut butter to make it more appealing to the prairie dogs.
Experts want to spread this initiative not only in Montana but also in Colorado and Arizona where the situation is critical as well. Based on the statistics, there are around 300 black-footed ferrets throughout the United States.
According to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the wild ferrets were listed under the Endangered Species Act after their population had been decimated by plagues and habitat loss. Wildlife officials intend to cover tens of thousands of acres with the M&Ms vaccine hoping to fight back the Sylvatic plague and restore the prairie dog and black-footed ferret’s population.