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How Drones are Saving American Ferrets

The black-footed ferret is a native species of North America which is listed as endangered. The animals were first discovered by Audubon and Bachman in 1851. But the species declined severely during the 20th century. The ferrets’ diet is principally prairie dogs but the prairie dog population had been decimated by sylvatic plague leaving the ferrets with too little to eat. The black-footed ferret has also been threatened by habitat loss, human-introduced diseases, and indirect poisoning from prairie-dog control measures.

Extinction and Recovery

Black-footed ferrets were declared extinct in the wild in 1987. A captive breeding programme was initiated and it became possible to reintroduce the ferrets to the wild across eight states over a period of several years. There are now 18 populations of black-footed ferrets in the wild but the future of the species remains threatened by the impact of sylvatic plague on prairie dogs.

On the Brink

Now the US Government has stepped in to save the ferrets which once again find themselves on the brink of extinction. Wildlife experts and scientists have been trying to devise an efficient way to vaccinate prairie dogs against the plague. The solutions they have come up with are an adapted drone and all-terrain vehicles. So how are these contraptions going to help the ferrets?

Flying High

The drone is an 8kg multi-rotor copter. This device and the ATV’s have been adapted so that they can fire peanut butter flavoured pellets into the prairie dogs’ habitat. The pellets are laced with the all-important vaccine. During trials in Montana, Colorado and South Dakota, up to 90% of the prairie dogs were happy to gobble up the pellets. The drone and ATVs provide an efficient and affordable delivery method for the vaccine.

More tests are needed but it looks like the US government have evolved a way to save North America’s most endangered species from extinction. The ferrets are crucial to the eco-system in their natural habitat and are a much loved species. It is vital that they are saved and a clever drone carrying peanut butter pellets could be the solution.


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