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.