Conservationists are in particular worried about plague’s effect on the black-footed ferret, an endangered species that preys on prairie dogs, its primary food source. Desperate to save North America’s only native ferret, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is spraying prairie dog burrows with insecticide. The service has also begun a capture-and-release vaccination program for the ferrets.
These labor-intensive tasks could cost less if the threshold model derived from the giant gerbils holds up; Kazakh scientists are now testing the concept. Davis says he is “quite encouraged” by the similarity in data between the prairie dogs and the gerbils. To further compare notes, he and other concerned researchers plan to meet in Kazakhstan this spring, as the harsh winter thaws and the gerbils emerge from their burrows.
Note: This article was originally printed with the title, "Plague in the Prairie".