The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has come up with a unique plan to try and save a community of highly endangered of black-footed ferrets in Montana: they’re going to use a drone to shoot M&Ms at them.
The sweet treats will be coated in a mixture of peanut butter and a vaccine that the USFWS hopes will combat a bacterial disease that has been sweeping through the already depleted population, putting them at real risk of extinction.
The black-footed ferret has been endangered for almost 50 years. Habitat destruction to them to the very brink, and in the mid 1980s the wild population in the United States was just 18. Now there are some 300 in the country, but they are falling prey to Sylvatic plague. The disease, which is transmitted by fleas, and is lethal to both the ferrets themselves, and the prairie dogs that provide up to 90% of their diet, and also dig the tunnels the ferrets live in.
Although their numbers are rapidly thinning, the population is spread across a wide area, which makes administering a vaccine extremely problematic.
‘We dropped the vaccine out of a bag while walking around, but that’s very hard to do over thousands of acres,’ USFWS biologist Randy Machett told The Guardian. ‘We are working with private contractors to develop equipment to drop the vaccine uniformly across an area, rather than one hog getting to eat a big pile of them.’
And that’s where the sweet treat dispensing drone comes in.
Collaborating with the aforementioned contractors, the USFWS have developed a device capable of shooting peanut-butter covered M&Ms in three different directions. This handy candy lifesaving invention will be strapped to drones, which will then fly over the UL Bend National Wildlife Refuge, firing the laced M&Ms at the animals below, who, according to Machett, consider the sweets ‘delicious’.
The program is due to begin in September, so if you happen to be hiking in the area around then, don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re following in the footsteps of Hansel and Gretel. And no, you definitely shouldn’t forage the sugary titbits left on the ground.