Prairie dogs at Wind Cave National Park are being trapped and tested for the presence of a vaccine. Different agencies are working together to test a vaccine to prevent the spread of Sylvatic Plague in prairie dog populations. It could help protect other animals.
"We wanted to share with the public this exciting story of research that we are doing to protect the endangered black-footed ferret," said Bridget Fahey, Endangered Species Chief with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Mountain-Prairie Region.
Endangered species practitioners hope this study helps the black-footed ferrets. "In the wild one of their biggest threats is plague, plague is an introduced disease that's transmitted by flees and it can be transmitted to wildlife by prairie dog species and the black-footed ferrets depend on prairie dogs for their prey," Fahey said.
And plague has a dramatic effect on prairie dogs. Christopher Brand, with USGS, said, "When plague hits a prairie dog colony it can wipe out 90 to 100 percent of prairie dogs on that colony."
Several tests, including drawing blood to see the presence of the vaccine, combing for fleas, which can be tested for plague and pulling hair samples, are being done. Greg Schroeder, with Wind Cave National Park, said, "With this oral plague vaccine, we are trying to do it in a different approach and give the prairie dogs a vaccine that will prevent them from getting the plague."
Schroeder hopes it will be successful. "It will be a real game changer and really help us manage plague out there in the natural system," Schroeder said.
The field trials began in several different states in 2013, and they will continue until 2016.