Experts from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are considering an ambitious plan to protect endangered ferrets by using drones to drop peanut-butter flavor vaccine pellets in a Montana wildlife refuge.
The UL Bend National Wildlife Refuge is an important site for the recovery of black-footed ferrets, which are considered one of North America’s rarest mammals. Captive-reared ferrets have been reintroduced at the refuge, which covers about 56,000 acres, since 1994.
However, Sylvatic plague poses a major threat to the species. While the ferrets are vaccinated against the plague when they are introduced to the refuge, the disease is lethal to prairie dogs, on which they depend for food and habitat.
Officials currently spray an insecticide to kill the plague-carrying fleas, a manual process that can be labor-intensive across an expanse of prairie. A spokesman for the USFWS told FoxNews.com that the Service is keen to find a more efficient method to protect prairie dogs and ferrets. “We’re always thinking how to do things better,” he said.
One potential solution could involve drones dispersing vaccine in peanut-flavored oral bait that are roughly the size and weight of M&Ms. “Apparently, just like you and your Golden Retriever, Prairie Dogs really enjoy the flavor of peanut butter,” said the spokesman.
The baits would be distributed very sparsely in targeted areas, at around 50 small pellets per acre.
Another method being considered is dispersing the oral vaccines manually.
The spokesman told FoxNews.com that the drone plan is still in its conceptual stage. “The proposals are currently being routed to our leadership for review,” he said.
The black-footed ferret is the only ferret species native to North America. Approximately 300 black-footed ferrets were known to exist in the wild at the end of 2015, spread across 27 reintroduction sites in North America.
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