Tracking, vaccinating, and returning a black-footed ferret to its burrow in complete darkness is no easy task. But for WWF’s Black-footed Ferret Restoration Manager Kristy Bly, it’s all in a night’s work. For over 20 years, Kristy has teamed up with numerous federal, Tribal, state, and private entities to recover and protect black-footed ferrets.
Black-footed ferrets – one of North America’s most endangered mammals – can only survive within the Great Plains’ prairie dog colonies. Currently there are about 390 ferrets in the wild, but they face mounting danger from habitat loss and sylvatic plague, a non-native disease that affects both ferrets and prairie dogs, their main source of prey. Ferrets not only rely on prairie dogs for food, but also use their burrows for shelter and raising young. Sylvatic plague, a fast-spreading bacterial disease, is threatening both species, making the need for vaccination and protection programs imperative.
Monitoring and protecting ferrets from plague is complex, tedious work. Because ferrets are elusive and nocturnal, scientists use high-intensity spotlights mounted to field trucks and advanced surveillance equipment like thermal cameras to locate them. Much of the field equipment requires battery power from field trucks that must remain noisily idling to charge the equipment, which often disrupts ferret behavior. The vet trailer, where ferrets receive sylvatic plague vaccinations, also runs on propane gas and loud gas-powered generators.