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Prairie Dog Warning - HELP US!!
Photo courtesy of "Smithsonian"

pd hugpd logopd kissing
(Cynomys ludovicianus)

Information from The National Wildlife Federation

There are four species of prairie dogs in the USA, the blacktailed (cynomys ludovicianus), which lives in the dry lowland prairies (most common pet) and the three other species, the most common of which is the slightly smaller whitetailed.  Actually, only the tips of the tails differ in coloration from the overall golden tan of the 1-3 pound animals.

Prairie dogs live in colonies called prairie dog towns.  These are sub-divided into "neighborhoods" by the blacktailed variety; the whitetailed prairie dogs seem less socially organized.  Each animal digs a complex burrow with many tunnels, some ending in rooms used for storage, sleeping and as nurseries for the 3-8 young born in spring.  Prairie dogs mate once a year.  The female prairie dogs are fertile for only five hours each year.  For safety's sake, each burrow has several exits, all of which are surrounded by dirt mounds 1-2 foot high.

These gregarioius little animals spend much of their time sitting upright on their "doorsteps," often running back and forth between each other's burrows.  At least one sentinel is always posted, its two-syllable warning bark ringing out loudly and sharply at the first sign of an intruder.   It was this bark which earned the rodents their name from pioneers.

Prairie dogs are actually ground squirrels, related to chipmunks, marmots and groundhogs.  They feed on insects, grasses and other green plants and are active during daylight hours.  The black-footed ferret, an endangered mammal, feeds exclusively on prairie dogs.   Coyotes, hawks, eagles, weasels, badgers and rattlesnakes add prairie dogs to their more varied diets.  But the greatest enemy to prairie dogs is people.

Millions of prairie dogs have been killed to make way for cattle and livestock.  The Utah prairie dog (Cynomys parvidens) is a threatened species, but  the other 170+ species may follow suit unless preservation measures are taken.  Further, the near extinction of the black-footed ferret is directly related to the decline of it major food source - the PRAIRIE DOG!!

How many prairie dogs are there?

Black-tailed prairie dog habitats have been in rapid decline since their historic high 1.5 billion.  The North Dakota dog population has declined 65% from 1970 - 1990, for example, and a 50% decline occurred in the Montana prairie dog population during that same period!

Why are prairie dogs in JEOPARDY?

Habitat destruction
Less than 1% of the original prairie dog habitat remains intact.  What was once 100-250 million acres has been reduced to 700,000 in the last 150 years.  Colonies are often too small and widespread to support viable populations or allow for critical movement between populations.


Prairie Dogs Lived with the Bison

Photos by JWM Productions


The control of prairie dogs with chemical toxins is still a threat to the long-term survival of the prairie dogs.  During the period of 1882-92, chemical control was used on 1.2 million acres in S. Dakota, Wyoming and Montana.  In 1991 alone, 150,000 pounds of poisoned oats were produced by APHSIS/Animal Damage Control and the S. Dakota Department of Agriculture.  Even small, isolated prairie dog colonies are chemically controlled by ranchers.  This repeated poisoning results in the slow but progressive erosion of the range distribution of the prairie dogs.

Unlimited, Unregulated Shooting

Throughout the American West, prairie dogs are used as targets by gopher hunters.  Some places provide and promote prairie dog hunts(I guess it proves how smart these people are, shooting defenseless animals with no feelings) and providing guides that identify locations of prairie dog towns, while a few rural communities host prairie dog shooting contests with cash  prizes for those who kill the most animals in a day.

Sylvatic Plague

Sylatic plague is a foreign disease, first found in California ground squirrels in 1904.  Spread by fleas, the plague has diffused across the West and prairie dogs appear to have little or no immunity.   South Dakota is the only state that has shown no evidence of Sylatic Plague so far.   Once the disease appears in a colony, the entire prairie dog population is often lost.  It is extremely rare for humans to contract the disease from contact with prairie dogs.  Only 395 cases of plague have occurred in humans in the USA since 1946, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.  Of those, only 23 cases, or under 6%, were linked to contact with prairie dogs.

Information from The National Wildlife Federation


prairie dog in the wild
How can someone just kill these creatures of God!!




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