Disease Mitigation in Prairie Dogs and Black-Footed Ferrets
Flea control with FipBits to prevent plague from killing black-footed ferrets and their prairie dog prey
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
U.S. Geological Service
Arizona Game and Fish Department
Prairie Wildlife Research
Colorado State University
World Wildlife Fund
Buffalo Gap National Grasslands
Badlands National Park
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute
Turner Endangered Species Fund
The primary biological challenge to recovery of endangered black-footed ferrets is sylvatic plague, caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, and vectored primarily by fleas. Flea control with insecticides on prairie dog colonies is generally effective in preventing plague, but is expensive (~$30/acre) to conduct annually and fleas can develop insecticide resistance. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service developed a new bait pellet (FipBits) that contains tiny amounts of fipronil (the active ingredient in Frontline spray used for a long time to topically control fleas and ticks on dogs and cats). Adult fleas that feed on prairie dogs that consumed a FipBit are killed and flea larvae that feed on feces from prairie dogs that ate FipBits are also killed. Flea control has been exceptional for one year post-treatment, and for two years in some cases, after a single treatment of 50 FipBits/acre (2.2 ounces of FipBits/acre). Flea/plague control costs using FipBits may be reduced by 90% or more compared to current methods. With regulatory agency approvals, FipBits may become a “game-changer” in the battle against plague in support of black-footed ferret recovery.
Black-footed Ferret Monitoring Techniques
UAVs as a tool for detecting the endangered Black-footed Ferret
Steller's Jay Solutions, LLC
Fort Belknap Fish and Game Department
Idaho State University
World Wildlife Fund
Little Dog Wildlife
The conservation and management of black-footed ferrets has traditionally relied on nocturnal spotlight surveys to detect, count, and assess reintroduced populations throughout North America. Although spotlight surveys are considered to be the most effective method for detecting black-footed ferrets, researchers are interested in exploring alternative methods for monitoring populations. One method that has recently been found to hold promise as a potential tool is the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, also-known-as drones) equipped with thermal cameras. Recent advances in UAV and camera technologies have resulted in a survey tool capable of detecting small-bodied wildlife during nighttime flights. In 2022, researchers put these technologies to the test in a pilot study at the Fort Belknap Reservation in Blaine County, Montana, where a reintroduced ferret population currently resides. In this first-of-its-kind study, researchers were able to clearly detect black-footed ferrets moving aboveground during the night from a UAV equipped with a thermal camera.
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