Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Black-Footed Ferrets hit by Plague

black footed ferret photo

This is so sad, Black-footed ferrets in South Dakota struck by Sylvatic Plague

WALL, S.D. — A colony that contains nearly half of the black-footed ferrets in the country and which biologists say is critical to the long-term health of the species has been struck by plague, which may have killed a third of the 300 animals.

Losing this population to the plague would be a blow for the entire ferret recovery program and personally heartbreaking, said Mr. Livieri, who has worked for 13 years to restore this population south of Badlands National Park. He started with the National Park Service, then worked for the Forest Service and now cobbles together financing for his own nonprofit organization, Prairie Wildlife Research.

For now, the race is on to protect the heart of the ferret population. Mr. Livieri, often working by himself, drives from his home in Wellington, Colo., six hours away, and spends a week or two at a time scouring the prairie all night in hopes of injecting all of the ferrets.

Treating ferrets, though, is only half of the equation. Enough prairie dogs need to survive the plague to keep the ferrets from starving to death. One ferret eats 125 to 150 prairie dogs a year.

A decision by the Forest Service on whether to poison prairie dogs on land that has no ferrets, but is suitable habitat for them, is due out soon. A decision on whether to poison prairie dogs in ferret habitat is being delayed, said the under secretary of agriculture, Mark Rey, to see how the spread of the plague plays out. “We’ll see how big it is, how far it is likely to spread and how many prairie dogs we have left as it runs its course,” Mr. Rey said. “Prudence dictates we collect this information.”

Save a Population of Ferrets

From Prairie Wildlife Research News:

The battle against plague in Conata Basin continues. It appears that as much as 9,000 acres of the 31,000 acres of prairie dogs may be affected. We won’t know until late fall how much the black-footed ferret population has been impacted. By that time I will have completed my counts of BFFs and we will have a more accurate assessment of the damage done by plague.

I continue to lead a small crew in capturing BFFs for vaccination by the National Wildlife Health Center. If we don’t capture these BFFs they will not be vaccinated. To date we have captured and vaccinated 43 adult BFFs. We will capture and vaccinate the kits but right now they are not big enough to capture and many remain below ground. By mid-August we will be capturing kits. Other crews continue to dust prairie dog burrows to kill fleas which can spread plague. It is a laborious task that will persist throughout the summer.

Plague Q & A

Travis Livieri is executive director of Prairie Wildlife Research and holds BS and MS degrees in wildlife management. He has worked on the North American prairies for 13 years to restore the endangered black-footed ferret.

Sylvatic plague has reached the Conata Basin, an area of South Dakota that was a previous safe haven for black-footed ferrets and one of the most successful sites for reintroducing the endangered black-footed ferret into the wild. Travis Livieri is one of the people working to save the black-footed ferrets, also known as BFFs.

Travis Livieri - Saving The Black-Footed Ferrets

His Blog

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