Endangered Black-footed Ferrets receive Covid-19 vaccine
In summer 2020, endangered black-footed ferrets (BFFs) were injected with the then experimental vaccine for Covid-19 slated for human use. Testing was conducted in the captive BFF population at the National Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center near Fort Collins, Colorado. To date no BFFS have tested positive for Covid.
Testing was initiated not only to protect the highly endangered wild BFFs, but also potentially to protect humans, should the animals become infected. Minks – both farmed and wild- were found to test positive for Covid in both Europe and North America. In recent months the mink tested positive for the mutated strain of the virus, initially identified in the United Kingdom.
The concern comes from BFF’s genetic similarity to other mustelids, such as mink. Mink not only contracted the illness, but also passed it on to humans, causing several EU countries to dispose of entire colonies of farmed mink, in the millions.
The wild BFFs are native to the North American prairie. Their range, once spanning the vast American West, was reduced as humans exterminated the prairie dog populations, which is the BFF’s primary food source.
By early fall 120 of the 180 ferrets housed at the center were inoculated, with the rest remaining unvaccinated in case something went wrong with the animals. So far, the vaccinated BFFs appear healthy, and tests show SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in their blood. However, there is no data to show whether the vaccine actually protects against the disease. Efficacy studies in domestic ferrets are still pending.