Drones and Peanut Butter to Save an Endangered Species

Not only can drone technology improve how you manage grazing on your farm or ranch, these little flying robots can also help us solve endangered species problems. In this case, land managers are using drones to deliver peanut butter covered vaccines to prairie dogs as part of an effort to remove the black footed ferret from the endangered species list.

This was the sign posted on the fence to my 500-acre project area.
This was the sign posted on the fence to my 500-acre project area.

If you’re not a fan of prairie dogs, I feel your pain. An over-abundance of them in a pasture can be a real problem as I saw first hand when I was running a “Cows Eat Weeds” project. The pasture had been hit hard by drought and years of mismanaged grazing and the prairie dogs had helped in it’s deterioration into 500 acres of mostly weeds. When they all died of plague, I was glad for the few years it gave us to graze down the weeds and work on native species recovery.

But prairie dogs do have a role to play as part of a healthy ecosystem. Research shows that groundwater recharge, regulation of soil erosion, regulation of soil productive potential, soil carbon storage and forage availability are consistently higher in prairie dog grasslands.

From the paper "Prairie Dog Decline Reduces the Supply of Ecosystem Services and Leads to Desertification of Semiarid Grasslands." You can read it by clicking here.
From the paper “Prairie Dog Decline Reduces the Supply of Ecosystem Services and Leads to Desertification of Semiarid Grasslands.” You can read it by clicking here.

Most importantly for this story, prairie dogs are the sole prey of black footed ferrets. So when the dogs die of plague, all the efforts to remove the ferret from the endangered species list are dealt a serious blow. But, thanks to new technology (drones) and an old stand-by (peanut butter) scientists and land managers are delivering plague vaccine to prairie dogs to save the black footed ferret. Here’s a 2:49 minute video on the project with some great views of the drones and peanut butter pills in action. And even if you still can’t find it in you heart to appreciate prairie dogs, maybe this article and video will give you some ideas for how you can use new technology to solve long-standing problems. Enjoy!

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