Bad news: The black-footed ferret is endangered. In fact, it was declared extinct in 1979 until a dog brought a dead one to its owners in 1981. There were about a thousand of them in the wild as of 2011, which was somewhat encouraging, but the species is hitting another roadblock, as that number is closer to 300 now.
The ferrets are being taken out by the sylvatic plague at the moment, and they’re in danger of being wiped out altogether. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a plan: They’re attaching a “glorified gumball machine,” so says US Fish and Wildlife biologist Randy Machett, to drones to distribute M&Ms covered in peanut butter and, more importantly, oral vaccines.
As Machett tells The Guardian, “It is the fastest, cheapest way to distribute the vaccine. We are hopeful this oral vaccine will be used to mitigate plague sites and treat tens of thousands of acres each year.”
The M&Ms actually aren’t for the ferrets, but for the prairie dogs in the area, which make up about 90 percent of the black-footed ferret’s diet. Assuming this plan gets final approval from the FWS, the drone should take to the Montana skies by September to shoot the M&Ms in three directions in 30-foot intervals.
Lab tests have shown that the prairie dogs quite like the M&Ms. The dye from the candy shows up in their whiskers, which will make it easier to tell how much they’re actually taking to the creative use of medicine. If this trial is successful, a similar plan will also be instated in Arizona and Colorado, so fingers crossed for our cute friends.
Featured Image: J. Michael Lockhart