Using Drones to Vaccinate Arizona's Ferrets? Maybe Not

Black-footed ferret | Courtesy of Arizona Game and Fish Department

A wild idea related to Arizona's population of endangered black-footed ferrets got some traction on the internet this month, but it looks unlikely to become a reality.

As The Arizona Republic reported, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report back in April suggested using drones to deliver small pellets — a mix of peanut butter and an oral vaccine — to ferret populations in the American West. That includes the population in Aubrey Valley, along Historic Route 66 in the Kingman area. The vaccine would protect the ferrets against sylvatic plague, which affects both that species and the prairie dogs on which it relies for food and shelter.

From that came a slew of stories, including one from Wired with the headline A Fleet of M&M-Shooting Drones Is the Black-Footed Ferret's Last Hope.

That's a bit of an exaggeration, a Fish and Wildlife official told The Republic. "We want to make sure people understand that this is all preliminary," he said. "There will not be an army of drones coming to a prairie near you."

He added that if such a program were implemented, it would be carefully controlled and people probably wouldn't even see the drones.

Black-footed ferrets nearly went extinct in the 1980s due to extermination of prairie dogs. They've since been reintroduced at several sites in the western United States.

As we told you in our January 2014 issue, the Aubrey Valley ferrets are carefully counted a few times a year, and the public is welcome to participate — provided you can stay awake late at night and operate a GPS device. For more information on that Arizona Game and Fish Department program, click here.

Add new comment