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USFWS is Using Drones and M&Ms to Save the Endangered Black Footed Ferret

USFWS Is Using Drones And M&Ms To Save The Endangered Black Footed Ferret
Nature.org

Yes, you read that right: the US Fish & Wildlife Service plans to use drones and M&Ms to help save the endangered black footed ferret in Montana.

Specifically, the drones will drop vaccine-covered M&Ms for prairie dogs in the UL Bend National Wildlife Refuge in Montana. Prairie dogs, which are the primary food source for black footed ferret, are vulnerable to the plague and researchers hope the vaccine-covered M&Ms will keep the disease at bay, thus indirectly helping the ferret population.

Only about 300 black footed ferret remain in the entire United States, all of which are descended from seven ferrets bred in captivity. Prairie dogs are very vulnerable to population crashes brought on by disease, specifically sylvatic plague. A prairie dog population crash in the UL Bend area would devastate the already vulnerable population of ferrets.

Scientists have developed a vaccine to protect ferrets from the plague. However, the main logistical problem they must overcome is how to vaccinate large populations of prairie dogs quickly.

According to Randy Machett, a USFWS biologist:

We dropped the vaccine out of a bag while walking around, but that’s very hard to do over thousands of acres. Spraying burrows with insecticide to kill the fleas is also labor intensive and not a long-term solution. So we are working with private contractors to develop equipment to drop the vaccine uniformly across an area, rather than one hog getting to eat a big pile of them.

That’s were drones come in. Using a specifically developed dispenser attached to a drone and a GPS system, USFWS biologists can throroughtly and evenly distribute the vaccine-covered M&Ms over the prairie dog colonies in the targeted area.

Apparently, prairie dogs absolutely love the special M&Ms, which are covered in peanut butter containing the vaccine.

The biologists hope to begin vaccination operations on 1 September 2016. If the trial in Montana succeeds they plan to treat prairie dog populations in Arizona and Colorado in an effort to help out the black footed ferret populations there as well.

Like what you see here? You can read more great hunting articles by John McAdams on his hunting blog. Follow him on Facebook The Big Game Hunting Blog, Twitter @TheBigGameHunt and on Instagram The_Big_Game_Hunter

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USFWS is Using Drones and M&Ms to Save the Endangered Black Footed Ferret