In the newest example of drones being used to save cute animals, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) plans to use and M&M shooting drone to save the endangered black-footed ferrets.
The USFWS proposes to deliver necessary vaccines to a ferret colony in Montana using drones to shoot M&M’s laced with the vaccine to the area around them.
According to the USFW’s proposal, black-footed ferrets have been an endangered species since 1967 and are one of North America’s rarest mammals. Efforts to revive the ferret population have faltered due to a disease known as the sylvatic plague which is spread by prairie dogs, which the ferrets rely upon for food and environment. The department proposes to deliver an oral vaccine (SPV) proven to protect against the disease – which they will disguise as candy – by drone.
The need for the vaccine is clear – it is known to be the primary problem for black-footed ferrets. Currently, the vaccine is delivered by hand – by researchers walking across acreage depositing the vaccines at measured intervals. The agency estimates that a person can treat between 3 – 6 acres an hour – but the area of prairie dog and ferret habitat that needs to be inoculated is thousands of acres and covers dozens of sites between Canada and Mexico. The vaccines need to be delivered – and monitored – every year, making the process impracticable to sustain.
Enter the drone. “SPV delivery via UAS is anticipated to eventually be the most efficient, effective, cost-conscious and environmentally friendly method of application,” says the report. The USFW findings suggest that a drone could travel 9 meters per second, and drop a single SPV bait once per second, treating about an acre a minute. And if the drone could be modified to deposit 3 doses a second – which the agency says seems possible – a solo drone operator could treat 200 acres per hour.
The operation could begin as early as September, and would be performed by a private contractor.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.