Vaccine treats will be used to help black-footed ferrets

black-footed ferrets
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Cheyenne, Wyo. - Feeding vaccine nuggets to prairie dogs could help bring back a species of prairie weasel that almost went extinct.

Scientists thought the black-footed ferret was extinct until a Wyoming ranch dog brought a ferret home in 1981.

One of the biggest barriers to restoring the black-footed ferret to Western ranges is plague, a disease that kills prairie dogs by the thousand. Black-footed ferrets feed almost exclusively on prairie dogs, meaning plague can leave ferrets without enough to eat.

To help black-footed ferrets, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others plan to vaccinate prairie dogs against plague in several Western states later this year.

They will use all-terrain vehicles and possibly drones to disperse vaccine pellets across as much as 40 square miles of ferret habitat.