Posted: July 3, 2008, 5 a.m. EDT
Nights On The Prairie
By Travis Livieri
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
This mother black-footed ferret carefully moved her two babies.
WMV | MOV
June 29, 2008
Our night of spotlighting begins. I’m capturing black-footed ferrets to facilitate vaccination against plague by the National Wildlife Health Center. If I don’t spotlight and capture these BFFs they will never be vaccinated. The night starts off slow — dark and moonless.
June 30, 2008
I find our first BFF of the night and set a trap.
That was quick. We process and vaccinate a 1-year-old female. She likely has kits somewhere in the area below ground. She is very cooperative as we work on her and then release her.
We find two more BFFs throughout the night but only capture one. It’s a beautiful sunrise but it’s time for sleep.
We’re back at it, spotlighting in a different prairie dog colony tonight. The BFFs seem to be a bit more active tonight and we capture them throughout the night.
July 1, 2008
I see a BFF in my spotlight but something appears different. There are three of them — the first kits of the year above ground. They’re small, about 10 inches long, and sitting next to their mom. Mom begins to move to another burrow but the kits are having a struggle running with her. She finally grabs one kit by the nape (scruffs it) and runs off to a distant burrow. The other kit is distressed. I know Mom will come back for it, but I feel compelled to do something. I jump out of the truck and scruff the kit and run over to the burrow where Mom and the other kit are. The kit yelped as I held it, and Mom nervously watched as I approached. She quickly grabbed the kit and took it below ground.
We capture and process Mom. She later moves her kits again in the early morning sunlight. She cautiously eyes me up, grabs one kit and makes a run to a burrow 20 feet away. She returns and does the same thing with the second kit. I get some video of this. A productive night with nine BFFs captured and processed. Now I need some sleep.
Another night, another prairie dog colony. A slow night for BFF activity with lightning looming on the western horizon.
July 2, 2008
Two BFFs last night. It looks like rain may move in today, so we make tracks and get out of there. Later in the morning it pours hard for almost an hour.
The rain this morning keeps us from getting off road, so we do the only thing we can — spotlight from the established roads. I see two BFFs by 10:30 p.m., and we have them both captured and processed before midnight. One is a female that received her first NWHC vaccination shot on June 29, so she got her second (booster) shot tonight. She is a 1-year old and looks healthy. The area she’s living in is literally a stone’s throw from the plague zone. I feel better now that we’ve given her a booster shot. We don’t capture any other BFFs tonight, and I’m off for a few days to rest up. We’re now at 43 BFFs captured and vaccinated by myself and NWHC. I hope we can keep this up.
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