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Posted: November 18, 2008, 5 a.m. EST
Black-Footed Ferret Plague Update

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.

The field season has slowed down now and allowed me time to rest and assess the progress we’ve made in the battle against plague. This deadly bacterial disease was confirmed in Conata Basin, South Dakota in mid-May of 2008 and is fatal to both prairie dogs and black-footed ferrets.

A multi-agency and organizational response was mounted that included the dusting of prairie dog burrows with an insecticide to kill fleas, a primary vector of plague, along with an effort to vaccinate black-footed ferrets against the disease.

Prairie Wildlife Research led the capture effort for vaccination in the field, working closely with the National Wildlife Health Center and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, using a vaccine developed by the U.S. Army. The grueling task of dusting 11,000 acres of prairie dog burrows was completed in early October.

As of this writing, 216 black-footed ferrets have been vaccinated against plague, and we will continue our efforts through the winter as time, funding and the weather allows.

Public support for this effort has been amazing, and we cannot thank you enough. In the upcoming weeks, I will post more stories on my blog to give you an idea of what goes on in the field to save an endangered species.


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