Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Saving ferrets from the plague?


From lecture, we learned that while rare, bubonic plague still exists in North America, carried by fleas and the rodents they feed on. What rodents are these? In the southern U.S., it’s usually prairie dogs.
While the likelihood of a human catching bubonic plague from a prairie dog is not high, other problems exist from the high prevalence of plague in the prairie dog population. The largest is the risk that the plague poses to the black-footed ferret, an animal indigenous to the American southwest.
Black-footed ferrets are highly endangered, and the plague puts them even more at risk. Not only can they catch the plague from prairie dogs they eat, but the high mortality rate of the plague can nearly exterminate the prairie dog population, the ferret’s largest food source.
Right now, the National Wildlife Health Center is working on vaccines for prairie dogs and ferrets, to try and save both species before it’s too late.

3 comments:

John Latto said...

Well January 27th (today) is the 5th annual "rabbit hole day". In honor of the birthday of Lewis Carrol bloggers are encouraged to go down the rabbit hole and write something different to their usual style. I resisted this for most of the day but somebody had to mention ferrets....

Some years ago, at least a decade but I forget exactly, I was in Florida for a wedding. For some reason we were in a pet store and they had a selection of ferrets for sale. One of these ferrets looked EXACTLY LIKE ME. Now I've never considered myself especially 'ferret like' but there was an uncanny resemblance. I think the ferret could see it too because it was just staring at me really hard. I was locked into a ferret staring time warp until my wife broke the spell by saying 'wow, that ferret REALLY looks like you.'

Sadly ferrets are illegal in California, although there are apparently more pet ferrets in California than in any other state. Ferrets are illegal in California because they are considered detrimental animals that pose a threat to native wildlife. They are also prohibited as pets in Hawaii because they are potential carriers of rabies. Oops, I think my post just became relevant.....

Elise Bell said...

Sorry for mentioning ferrets... That was a funny story, though.
I never really knew that ferrets were illegal in CA, because my music teacher always had three or four as pets, and all the pet stores stores sell things specifically for ferrets. I only found out that they were really illegal a few years ago.
Are pet ferrets really potential carriers of rabies? It seems like someone would notice before they ever got to Hawaii...

John Latto said...

The issue is complicated by the fact that people will sometimes use one set of laws to ban an animal because it is 'easier'. So although gerbils are illegal in California ostensibly because of their ability to carry Tuberculosis the real driver is the agricultural lobby and their concern that gerbils could escape to the wild and become crop pests.

All mammals are susceptible to rabies. It is not clear to me why Hawaii feels ferrets are more of a risk than cats, dogs or small children.

On the other hand many islands suffer badly from introduced predators such as cats, rats and snakes because native birds, for example, evolving in the absence of such predators became ground nesting. So for ecological reasons it might be wise to prohibit ferret ownership on islands.