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Fact Sheet 2008–3087

National Wildlife Health Center

Protecting Black-Footed Ferrets and Prairie Dogs Against Sylvatic Plague

By Tonie E. Rocke


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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 is a vital concern for ongoing recovery programs and conservation efforts for both prairie dogs and ferrets.

Revised May 2011

First posted October 2008

For additional information contact:
Dr. Tonie E. Rocke
U.S. Geological Survey
National Wildlife Health Center
6006 Schroeder Road
Madison, Wisconsin 53711-6223

Part or all of this report is presented in Portable Document Format (PDF); the latest version of Adobe Reader or similar software is required to view it. Download the latest version of Adobe Reader, free of charge.

Suggested citation:

Rocke, Tonie E., 2011, Protecting black-footed ferrets and prairie dogs against sylvatic plague: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2008-3087, Revised 2011, 2p.

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