Innovation That Matters

Drones vaccinate prairie dogs to save endangered ferrets


US Fish and Wildlife Service will use drones to drop vaccine-laced bait for prairie dogs, a crucial food source for endangered black-footed ferrets.

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We recently saw how drones are deployed to control the sleeping sickness-carrying tsetse flies in Ethiopia, and now the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is adopting a similar approach to save the endangered black-footed ferret.


The ferrets feed primarily on prairie dogs, a keystone ecological species in decline due to sylvatic plague. The FWS has concluded that using drones will dramatically increase the range where prairie dogs can be treated with the vaccine. Currently, workers deposit vaccine-laced food pellets by foot, covering on average 3-6 acres per hour. The drones will use a gumball-type machine to deposit three vaccines at a time, with an estimated coverage of up to 200 acres per hour. The initiative begins September 2016 in the UL Bend National Wildlife Refuge in Montana.

There are many examples, from controlling forest fires to finding lost hikers, where drones prove to be more efficient than humans in time-sensitive or labor-intensive situations. What other ecological dilemmas can be helped by drones?



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