Drones to be used to drop vaccine to tackle plague epidemic to save endangered ferrets

Drones to be used to drop vaccine to tackle plague epidemic to save endangered ferrets

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is planning to use drones that will fire vaccine covered M&Ms with an aim to save the endangered black-footed ferret, which has been facing a plague epidemic in America’s Great Plains.

The vaccine coated M&Ms will be shot in three directions simultaneously through drones in Montana. The vaccines will be targeted at the prairie dog population in the UL Bend National Wildlife Refuge in the north-eastern Montana.

The prairie dogs, the primary prey of the black-footed ferret, is being facing threat of being wiped out owing to Sylvatic plague, a bacterial disease transmitted by fleas. Now, both black-footed ferrets and prairie dogs face the risk from the plague.

The plague was introduced from ships in California in the 1800s. As per experts, ferrets can be vaccinated through injection, but it difficult to treat prairie dogs over the large areas. As mentioned above black-footed ferrets eat prairie dogs and their absence could prove disastrous for the species.

Randy Machett, a FWS biologist, said that dropping vaccines over thousands of acres while walking around is a very tough task. Also, it would not be possible to spray burrows of the prairie dogs with insecticides to kill the fleas.

“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”, affirmed Machett. He mentioned that a ‘glorified gumball machine’ has been developed to dispense the vaccine.

This machine can be fitted to a drone and it will use its GPS to drop vaccines at the distance of 30feet. The drone would also fire the M&Ms to the left and right, which means three vaccines can be dropped at one go.

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