Laboratory and field studies were conducted between July and October 1999 to identify bait preference, biomarker efficacy, and bait acceptance rates for delivering an oral plague vaccine to black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus). Twenty juvenile captive prairie dogs were offered alfalfa baits containing either alfalfa, alfalfa and 5% molasses, or alfalfa, 5% molasses and 4% salt. Based on the results of these trials we selected a bait containing alfalfa, 7% molasses, and 1% salt for field trials to determine bait acceptance rates by free-ranging animals. The biomarkers DuPont Blue dye, iophenoxic acid, and tetracycline hydrochloride were orally administered to captive prairie dogs to determine their efficacy. Only tetracycline proved effective as a biomarker. Two field trials were conducted at separate prairie dog colonies located at the Buffalo Gap National Grassland (Pennington County, South Dakota, USA). In Trial 1, three baits containing tetracycline were distributed around each active burrow entrance and an additional bait was placed inside the burrow (1,276 baits total). In Trial 2, baits were distributed at the same density per burrow as Trial 1, but along transects spaced 10 m apart (1,744 baits total). Trapping began 3 days after bait distribution, and 30 prairie dogs then were captured at each site to determine the percentage of animals marked. In Trial 1, 67% of the prairie dogs captured had tetracycline deposits indicative of bait consumption. In Trial 2, 83% of the prairie dogs had ingested a bait. Approximately 15% of the animals in both trials ate more than one bait. Fleas (Opisocrostis hirsutus) were found on 64 of 70 (91%) of the prairie dogs captured during this study.
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Vol. 38 • No. 1