Partnerships, Innovation (and Peanut Butter) Give New Hope for America’s Most Endangered Mammal

An unlikely combination of peanut butter and drones has given biologists renewed hope for the future of North America’s rarest mammal, the endangered black-footed ferret. Biologists are helping these fascinating animals and their main prey—prairie dogs—fight a deadly plague by dropping vaccine-laced bait from the sky by drones and by land from ATVs. Both prairie dogs and black-footed ferrets are highly susceptible to sylvatic plague, a non-native disease that the animals have LITTLE natural immunity against. In August 2016, the partnership tested all these new delivery methods across 1,200 acres of prairie dog colonies on U.L. Bend National Wildlife Refuge in Montana. While these preliminary results are promising, additional work is needed to determine if these methods can be used on a broader landscape to keep prairie dog colonies healthy and large enough to support black-footed ferrets in the wild.