Wildlife officials hatched a delicious plan to save the 300 endangered black-footed ferrets in Montana: peanut butter vaccine pellets to fight the sylvatic plague. But the best part of the plan? The morsels are going to drop from the sky.
During the trials, the pellets or “bait” were distributed by hand, but there was too much ground to cover. Officials are also using ATVs to deliver the vaccine doses, but not all of the terrain accommodates the vehicles, so they are opting instead to deliver the pellets, which are the size of M&Ms, by air. Drones can shoot one pellet every second, and cover an entire acre in less than a minute, making it ten times more efficient than hand-distribution.
The sylvatic plague, an exotic flea-borne disease introduced in the early 1900s, affects not just the ferrets but also the prairie dogs upon whom the ferrets depend for habitat and food. It’s not exactly a cozy friendship — ferrets prey on the prairie dogs and take shelter in the burrows that the prairie dog colonies build. More than 90 percent of the ferrets’ diet is made up of prairie dogs, so the logic is that prairie dogs who eat the peanut butter vaccine will help support the population of ferrets.
After five years of trials, the manufacturing of the peanut butter pellets has gone from hand production to automation, and there are some 300,000 tasty treats waiting for their air-drop delivery.