Bait balls help wipe out plague in Colorado prairie dogs

Posted at 4:30 AM, Aug 04, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-04 08:46:18-04

FT. COLLINS, Colo. – Many in Colorado live close to wildlife that can carry serious diseases, such as plague-infected prairie dogs. But researchers have now found a way to vaccinate the rodents. 

A team of researchers is working in a small Colorado Parks and Wildlife lab to produce tiny bait balls. The peanut butter balls contain an anti-plague vaccine that researchers will then spread out in open area for the animals to eat.

In the past, the team would work by hand producing only about 600 balls in a day. They're now making hundreds of thousands a week. 

"They're a really key part of the ecosystem. Prairie dogs are a keystone species, which means there are many species of wildlife that depend on prairie dogs," said Wildlife Disease Researcher Dan Tripp.

To make the bait more attractive to the rodents blue dye is added to the mixture. It’s then sent through a machine.

"Plague is not a native pathogen to Colorado," said Tripp. "It was first introduced to Colorado in the 1940s, and it is devastating our native wildlife populations."

The goal is to make as many as possible at an affordable, faster rate. 

Tripp says the bait balls are safe to other animals who often eat them as well.