How Drones and M&M’s are Being Used to Save Endangered Ferrets

By: Kassidy Coleman

At NewsWatch we’re huge drone lovers – they’re cool and a ton of fun to play around with. But we love them even more when we see that they’re doing something to help people or animals. Remember when drones were being used to detect sharks? Well, now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) are using drones to dispense M&M’s in order to save the endangered black-footed ferrets in Montana.


Wondering what’s so special about the black-footed ferret? They’re North America’s only native ferret, and they are totally dependent on prairie dogs for both their food and shelter. Unfortunately, prairie dogs and the black-footed ferrets are susceptible to and are being killed by the sylvatic plague, which is a disease that has been spread by fleas and rats since the 1800’s.


Alright, so you’re probably still curious about how M&M’s could possibly save these furry critters. Well, biologists have developed a vaccination for the sylvatic plague, and are able to get it to the black-footed ferrets due to their small population, but have been facing difficulties getting the vaccination out over the large span of land the prairie dogs cover. If the prairie dogs die, the black-footed ferret will likely go extinct. This is where the drones and M&M’s come in. These special M&Ms are coated with peanut butter and the sylvatic plague vaccine. Randy Machett, a FWS biologist reportedly described the technology they plan to use as a “glorified gumball machine” that will be able to use GPS to locate prairie dog populations and drop 3,000 M&M vaccines an hour – up to 20 times more efficient than if biologists were to distribute the vaccine by hand. And according to The Guardian, the animals find this bait very delicious.


Some farmers consider prairie dogs and the black-footed ferret to be pests and are even upset about the plan to save them. However, many other animals, such as coyotes, eagles, and owls rely on them for survival – meaning the disappearance of them could have detrimental effects on other species.


The plan hasn’t been officially approved yet, but Machett is expecting it to be approved and in full operation by September 1, 2016.

What do you think about using drones to save the black-footed ferret? Let us know in the comments below or join the conversation on Twitter!

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