Drones will drop peanut butter-flavoured vaccines to save endangered ferrets

Per proteggere da un’epidemia di peste i cani della prateria, prede principali di una rara specie di furetto, l’agenzia americana per l’ambiente ha deciso di ricorrere alla tecnologia.

Black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes) are small mustelidae native to the central regions of North America. Their population, however, has dramatically decreased over the past century, bringing the species on the brink of extinction.

Cuccioli di furetto dai piedi neri

Endangered ferrets

The main causes of their decline are habitat loss, illnesses spread by humans and a reduction in populations of ferrets’ main prey: prairie dogs. In the United States, only 300 black-footed ferrets survive in the wild, making these animals one of the rarest species of America.



Cane della prateria
A prairie dog

Sylvatic plague

An epidemic of sylvatic plague, a flea-borne illness spread from rats that were introduced in the 1800s, is decimating the populations of prairie dog in the US state of Montana. The decline in these rodents risks condemning ferrets, which are completely dependent upon prairie dogs for their food and shelter.

Esemplare di furetto dai piedi neri nel suo ambiente
Black-footed ferrets were declared extinct in the wild in 1987, but later reintroduced in their habitat thanks to a captive-reproduction programme

Drones to unleash vaccines

In order to fight the plague, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has decided to use drones to vaccine prairie dogs. These specially designed drones will unleash peanut butter-flavoured vaccine pellets on the animals’ habitats. The use of drones will allow cover an area of about 80 hectares per hour in the states of Montana, Arizona and Colorado. “It is the fastest, cheapest way to distribute the vaccine. We are hopeful this oral vaccine will be used to mitigate plague sites and treat tens of thousands of acres each year,” said Randy Machett, biologist at the FWS.

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