Posted: July 29, 2008, 5 a.m. EDT
Who'll Stop The Rain?
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
The frequent rains make travel aross the prairie to search for black-footed ferrets nearly impossible.
I have the gut feeling that it’s still a little bit wet to effectively spotlight, but I’m on my way out to see how squishy the ground is. We received some significant rains over the weekend. Unfortunately it doesn’t take long to confirm my gut feelings — the ground is still a little bit too wet. I’d like to give it another day to dry out.
It dried out a little bit more, but there is still standing water in several areas. I will have to be cautious to not get stuck or damage the ground. The soils of this area tend to be high in clay content, which makes it nearly impossible to get around when wet. It fills up the treads of your tires and in no time a truck is sunk down to the axles.
I’m able to avoid the muddy spots and although I find a few BFFs, they don’t seem very active. Tonight I’m only seeing brief glimpses of their emerald green eyeshine. Usually the BFFs peek out of their burrows for a short time as my truck approaches. We call it “periscoping,” and it looks very much like an L-shaped periscope breaking the surface to get a view.
No BFFs caught tonight. A BFF will not always enter a trap on a given night, and sometimes it takes several nights to catch an individual. In 2001, I worked on one BFF for nine nights in a row before I was able to catch her. Hopefully the animals on this prairie dog colony aren’t that stubborn. I think the BFFs and the rain have an ongoing conspiracy against me.
We had an all-day meeting about plague today, so I didn’t get much sleep. I find a BFF right off the bat and feel confident that tonight will not be a repeat of last night.
I’m happy to say tonight is not a repeat of last night. We captured our first BFF of the night in an area very close to the plague infestation, literally a stone’s throw away. It is female # 04-117, and she hasn’t received any vaccinations yet. All of the wild BFFs have a number and based on the year of their birth and the order in which they were caught. So for # 04-117, she was born in 2004 and she was the 117th kit caught that year. This is her fourth year of reproduction, which is really good for a BFF. She gets processed and released back to the burrow she was in.
© Travis Livieri
This double rainbow is gorgeous, but the rain that accompanies it ends the spotlighting efforts, for now.
Overall it wasn’t a bad night, three BFFs caught and three more located. I’ll be back again tonight to catch those other three. It’s time for sleep.
As I cook up some supper I look out the window and see some distant clouds that look like rain. Hopefully they stay north and miss this area.
It is now confirmed: the BFFs and the rain have a conspiracy against me. The winds pick up to about 50 mph and it’s raining horizontally. The wind and rain pound down for 40 minutes and eventually settle into a light rain. The sun begins to break through; to the east a full, double rainbow appears. A pretty sight for sure, but I know that my spotlighting for BFFs has to be postponed again. I’ll be back in mid-August. By then the kits will be big enough to trap and anesthetize for the full treatment (microchip insertion, vaccination, blood draw, etc.).
Momentarily defeated by the rain, I begin to pack my bags for the journey home to Colorado. As I gather up my belongings I turn on the radio, curious to hear any reports about the recent storm that passed through. The first thing I hear is John Fogerty’s twangy voice belting out a Creedence Clearwater Revival classic, “… and I wonder, still I wonder, who’ll stop the rain?”
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Who'll Stop The Rain?