Land managers scramble as plague hits South Dakota prairie dogs

By Michael Doyle | 06/06/2024 01:27 PM EDT

Black-footed ferrets, an endangered species, rely on prairie dogs for much of their diet and are highly vulnerable to infection.

In this Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, photo, prairie dogs share a snack at Badlands National Park, S.D. There are scattered prairie dog towns, which are composed of sheltering tunnels in the park. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)

A deadly bacterial disease has resurfaced in South Dakota's prairie dogs. AP

This story was updated at 3:25 p.m. EDT.

A deadly bacterial disease has resurfaced among prairie dogs in South Dakota, causing die-offs in Badlands National Park, Buffalo Gap National Grassland and the greater Badlands region.

While federal officials say the risk to humans is low, the highly infectious and historically dreaded plague has a horrific track record among both people and prairie animals. The disease was last detected in South Dakota’s Conata Basin in 2009, when it was held responsible for the loss of more than 80 percent of the remaining population of black-footed ferrets.


“We are concerned about the impacts to the black-footed ferret population and are taking necessary action to protect this important keystone species,” Eric Veach, superintendent of Badlands National Park, said in a statement Wednesday.