During a three-year field trial, U.S. Geological Survey scientists have distributed peanut butter flavored bait containing plague vaccination near active prairie dog burrows in Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Montana, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming.
About 70 percent of wild prairie dogs tested have ingested bait containing sylvic plague vaccination, according to the USGS.
“Prairie dogs in particular are considered keystone species in grassland ecosystems,” said Toni Rocke, lead scientist for this vaccination program. “That means they provide a food source for numerous animals, both birds and mammals. They’re really good at engineering their landscape. They dig burrows and clip the grass near their burrows and that provides the right kind of habitat for lots of other species.”
Rocke said vaccinating Utah prairie dogs is important because they are an endangered species.
“Prairie dogs used to occupy a lot more space in western states,” Rocke said. “And they’ve been reduced to two percent of their original habitat, so we’ve lost a lot of prairie dogs and a lot of prairie dog habitat. So whatever we can do to maintain what the remnants that are left is quite important.”
Rocke said the vaccine could be useful in preventing plague in other rodents. Research is being done to expand the vaccination process to squirrels.