“It’s really quite a simple process,” says Zadume Magarabad, the initiative’s local team leader. “We send out the drones, which are modified from commercially available bomb disposal robots, and they distribute the pellets in every direction using a little feed ramp like the ones you use to feed livestock.”
The pellets are specifically designed to attract local wildlife with their sweet taste. When small animals–hares, stoats, voles, and the like–eat the drone-scattered pellets, they become innoculated against sylvatic plague, which is largely spread by fleas.
Some have asked why Magarabad’s team has to use drones to vaccinate bunnies, which doesn’t seem to have much to do with their stated purpose. “Bunnies are its food!” he laughs. “If you vaccinate the food, you vaccinate the food chain.” When pressed about why his team isn’t addressing the problem more directly, Magarabad adds “Have you ever tried to find a yeti to give them their shots? It’s not easy.”
Sylvatic plague, which was introduced by climbers to the Himalayas in the 1960s, has decimated the already fragile yeti populations. During an outbreak, up to 100% of a yeti family group may die. By inoculating their food supply, the team hopes to save the gigantopithicids from extinction. With the population already pressured by a decrease in its natural range and illegal hunting, some experts fear that the sylvanic plague might be the last straw for the endangered species.