The United States government is set to use drone technology to save the black-footed ferrets–or Mustela nigripes–a mammal belonging to the same genus as the weasel, and the only native ferret of North America.
The plan is to use drones effectively to deliver a vaccine to 1,200 acres of its grassland habitat in UL Bend Refuge in Montana, a state in the Western United States near the country’s border with Canada.
Earlier reports have suggested that Federal drones will transport a special type of M&M mixed with the vaccine to cure the prairie dogs infected by sylvatic plague, a flea-borne disease spread from rats. Later updated reports this week clarified that the air machines will shoot to ground a special pellet–and not the branded candy–over the area in three directions simultaneously thus saving time and energy.
Prairie dogs are the ferret’s favorite snack, and it is obvious that when the dogs die, so do the ferrets.
In a statement for the U.S. The Guardian website, FWS biologist Randy Machett explained that drone technology is a much better delivery process than people dropping the vaccine out of the bag while walking. He adds it’s very hard to do over thousands of acres. In addition, spraying insecticide to kill the fleas is “labor intensive,” Machett said, and it is not “a long-term solution” to control the disease.
The government is now working with private contractors for the development of the special vaccine-delivery drones.
According to the report of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the plague affecting the dogs was first introduced into the United States around the year 1900. Meanwhile, the black-footed ferrets are at risk of extinction. Estimates of the government show that only about three hundred are left although some are bred in captivity before releasing them to the wild.
During the year 2007 to 2008, about sixty percent of the prairie dog’s population in the UL Bend Refuge was eliminated by a disease called the epizootic plague. The government at the time treated the dogs with insecticide to kill the fleas.