Prairie dogs are commonly referred to as a keystone species. This is due to the large number of animals that depend on them, primarily as a food source. While not endangered, prairie dog numbers have been decreasing. A major reason of the decline is due to the sylvatic plague, a non-native disease that is transmitted to prairie dogs by fleas. Another species that is negatively impacted by the plague is the black-footed ferret (BFF), North America’s only native ferret with a natural range covering the grassland states, spanning as far north as Canada to northern Mexico. About 90% of the carnivorous BFFs’ diet is composed of prairie dogs. Not only does the plague result in less food for BFFs, but the ferrets are also vulnerable to contracting it.
BFFs were thought to be extinct until 1981 when a sheep dog named Shep found and killed a BFF, and brought it back to his owners. A taxidermist identified the species, and Wyoming wildlife authorities were alerted and were able to locate about 20 other ferrets living in the vicinity. The remaining ferrets were captured in order to begin a breeding program to restore the species. To this day, BFFs continue to be bred and released into the wild. However, the plague has been a major detriment to the species’ recovery efforts and some sources estimate only about 300 to 400 currently exist in the wild, much lower than conservationists’ goal of a few thousand.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is a not-for-profit conservation organization that oversees a number of recovery efforts throughout the planet, and has lately been working on conserving BFFs. Both prairie dogs and BFFs are vulnerable to the plague. An injectable vaccine is available for BFFs but there is no vaccine for prairie dogs. Consequently, vaccine-laced peanut-butter-flavored bait was developed for prairie dogs to consume in an effort to inoculate them from the plague. The WWF has been a large contributor within a team that delivers the bait to prairie dog sites via drones and ATVs. WWF ATV drivers can deliver bait to a 50 acre range over the course of an hour, while drones are used for the more inaccessible areas.
[4/24/2021 EDIT: As of this date, the WWF card application is no longer available although current cardholders may continue to keep their WWF card for the time being] Credit card reward structures vary by card, and some cards’ rewards assist conservation charities. One of these conservation-themed credit cards is the Bank of America WWF card. At the time of this writing, the WWF receives at least $3 when a new credit card account is opened and activated, $3 for each annual card renewal, and 0.08% of all net purchases made with the card. Conservation credit cards, such as the WWF card, are not only a convenient way to support a conservation effort, but also may provide more traditional benefits to the cardholder. In addition to supporting the WWF, the card also provides 3% cash back in a category of choice, 2% cash back at grocery stores, and 1% cash back everywhere else at the time of this writing. Full details of the WWF card can be found on the Bank of America’s website. The money the WWF receives through the card program helps the organization to operate and work on projects such as fighting the sylvatic plague.
Black-footed ferret – nationalzoo.si.edu
The secret survival of the “masked bandit” in the vanishing prairie – blogs.edf.org
Black-Footed Ferret Update – nationalzoo.si.edu
Innovations (and peanut butter) give black-footed ferrets a boost – www.worldwildlife.org
Photo of black footed ferret by Ryan Hagerty, USFWS on Wikimedia
Prairie dog photo by Dobert Claire, USFWS on Pixnio