Authorities in the US want to dispense sweet peanut butter pellets from drones in a bid to vaccinate and protect one of North America’s most critically-endangered critters and its food source.
Last summer, we published an entire editorial series on how drone technology is being put to use towards environmental and social causes and there are oodles of projects out there using unmanned aerial vehicles to better the planet, its people and its furry, four-legged inhabitants. Recently, the US Fish and Wildlife Service proposed using drone technology to help save prairie dogs and black-footed ferrets from extinction in North America.
These animals have been up against it ever since rats and fleas made it to the US courtesy of international shipping routes. Ensuing habitat destruction, shooting and development have also played a role in these species’ dwindling numbers so much so that by 1987, there were only 18 black-footed ferrets left. Conservation measures have helped boost those numbers back up to 300 but they, along with their main food source, prairie dogs, are under threat of being wiped out by the flea-borne sylvatic plague. Vaccinating prairie dogs and black-footed ferrets against this disease is no easy task given they are spread out over large areas and, in the latter’s case, are nocturnal creatures.
Instead of bringing the vaccine to these animals, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is looking to bring the animals to the vaccine. How? In what sounds like every sweet-toothed person’s dream scenario, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is currently looking into dispensing peanut butter pellets laced with a vaccine against the disease from drones. The initiative would see pellet dispensers attached to fixed-wing drones that would then fly over areas where the animals are found and shoot pellets out every 30 feet.
Trials in small areas of land have been carried out minus drones and have resulted in 75 to 90 per cent of prairie dogs taking the bait. By using drones, the team hopes to cover two acres a minute. The US Fish and Wildlife Service is currently working with a contractor to design a drone that fits their needs and is hoping to test out the technology later this year.