Black-footed ferrets are the only ferret that is native to America but they are in trouble. These cute masked weasel are being taken down by one of the worst diseases in history; the plague.
Black-footed ferrets’ main source of nutrition are prairie dogs. Prairie dogs are most commonly infected with the plague. Ferrets have had a rough couple of decades. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services have dedicated its time to save these “BFFs.”
BFFs are one of the most endangered species native to the United States. As Americans moved west, they eradicated most of the prairie dogs. This, in turn, removed most of the ferrets’ prey and habitat. By 1987, there were about 18 BFFs left. (Sad face)
Since then, they have been captured, bred and reintroduced to more than two dozen areas in eight Western states, Canada, and Mexico. There are still not that many of them. The biggest threat is the flea-borne plague carried by prairie dogs.
Fish and Wildlife workers have been trying to neutralize the disease by spreading flea-killing powder down prairie dog burrows. This is done by hand and is time consuming work. They have thought of a much faster way to help our BFFs.
Drones. Drones and peanut butter.
The peanut butter pellets will be laced with vaccine against the plague. The drones will head out in the early mornings and drop a pellet every 30 feet. They will head out at that time because ferrets are sleeping but prairie dogs are active.
While testing in Montana, 70% to 95% of prairie dogs eat the bait. They can tell because the peanut butter pellets tint their whiskers pink. They plan on continuing with the flea spraying in addition to the drones to help cover more ground.
Less than 300 BFFs remain in the United States, according to Fish and Wildlife Services. They hope this helps bring up the ferret population. If the drone experiment is a success, they plan on adopting the program in other states like Arizona and Colorado.