The endangered black-footed ferret is dying out due to a plague, and the US government has a solution: Call in a “glorified gumball machine” attached to a drone to dispense M&Ms smeared in vaccine-covered peanut butter.
US Fish and Wildlife Service will release vaccine-laced M&Ms in northeastern Montana out of drones that can shoot simultaneously in three directions and hopefully cover enough land to make a difference. The drone will use GPS to drone vaccines are 30-feet intervals. Considering that drones are now being used to attempt hacking Pokemon Go, why not use them to help real animals?
“It is the fastest, cheapest way to distribute the vaccine,” FWS biologist Randy Machett said. “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 are not for the ferrets themselves, but for the prairie dogs in the area, which are a main source of food for the ferrets. The spread of sylvatic plague means the marmot population has been low, which has affected other species including North America’s only native ferret, which only recovered from near-extinction with the help of artificial insemination. Even now, only about 300 are left.
Lab tests have shown that prairie dogs like the M&Ms, and the dye shows up on their whiskers, which makes the vaccinated animals easier to track.
The plan should be in place by September following final FWS approval. Maybe this idea could have application for human children too? [The Guardian]