South Dakota

Testing Plague Vaccine for Prairie Dogs

Sylvatic plague, which is caused by a bacteria transmitted by wild rodents via their fleas, is killing prairie dogs in the American West.

A new oral vaccine that could protect prairie dogs from plague is being field tested in 29 locations, including Buffalo Gap National Grasslands in western South Dakota.

U.S. Forest Service staff, who are testing the vaccine at Buffalo Gap, set up traps in a grid in four colonies to capture the prairie dogs.

Prairie dogs are safely transported from the traps to a trailer so measurements can be taken.

They are then sedated for their safety and that of the researchers.

Blood samples are taken from a clipped toenail, along with hair and whisker samples. The prairie dogs are also combed for fleas. All of the data is sent to a U.S. Geological Survey lab for testing.

For their safety and the prairie dogs’, Forest Service staff carry the prairie dogs back to the traps before they wake up.

Prairie dogs are then transported back to the burrows they came from.

Trap doors are opened and they quickly pop back into their holes.

Protecting prairie dogs from plague also protects the black-footed ferret, for which the prairie dogs are a primary food source. Learn more about these rare animals