Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Protecting Black-Footed Ferrets and Prairie Dogs against sylvatic plague

November 6, 2008

Scientists at the USGS National Wildlife Health Center (NWHC), in collaboration with colleagues at other federal agencies and the University of Wisconsin, are developing and testing vaccines that can be used to protect black-footed ferrets and prairie dogs against plague. The black-footed ferret is commonly regarded as the most endangered mammal in North America, and sylvatic plague is a major impediment to its recovery. The three prairie dog species (Gunnison's, black-tailed, and white-tailed prairie dogs), upon which the ferret depends for food and whose burrows they use for shelter, have been drastically reduced from historical levels, resulting in the near extinction of the ferret. All three species are considered 'at risk' and have been petitioned for listing as 'threatened' or 'endangered' by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Additionally, the Utah prairie dog is listed as threatened and the Mexican prairie dog is considered endangered in Mexico. Like the black-footed ferret, all five prairie dog species are highly susceptible to plague and regularly experience outbreaks with devastating losses. Controlling plague outbreaks in prairie dogs and ferrets is a vital concern for ongoing recovery programs and conservation efforts for both species.

Related Content