Little dogs on the prairie

Conata coterie

A prairie dog family, or "coterie," lines up outside its burrow. Large prairie dog colonies are essential for the survival of other imperiled species such as black-footed ferrets and burrowing owls.

Prairie dogs are small and squirrelly, but they have outsized influence on the health of their entire ecosystem. Not only do they help turn over the sun-baked soil of the prairie to keep grasses growing, but they’re also an important food source for at least a half dozen species—many of which are imperiled due to habitat loss. Recovery of the endangered black-footed ferret, in particular, is entirely dependent on restoring large prairie dog communities in at least a few places across the Great Plains.

This summer, Defenders’ Rocky Mountain Representative Jonathan Proctor helped move hundreds of prairie dogs in Wyoming from the edge of Thunder Basin National Grassland, where they were threatened with poisoning, to an interior section of the Grassland where they will be fully protected from poisoning and shooting.

Here’s Jonathan explaining the importance of protecting prairie dogs and their habitat in this excellent article from New West on the Thunder Basin relocation project:

And while some see that as plenty of space for a dirt-slinging little varmint, the loss of a keystone species such as the prairie dog has lasting repercussions.

As the prairie dogs go, so do the species that rely on them, including eagles, badgers, weasels, mountain plovers, swift foxes, ferruginous hawks, burrowing owls and rattlesnakes. They’re part of the complexity that is the grassland web. Take one piece out, even a piece as small as a prairie dog, and the rest suffer.

“It was a sea of life. It was a city. For wildlife this was New York City,” says Jonathan Proctor, surveying the grassland. Proctor, who has spent many years on this issue, is the Rocky Mountain region representative for the Defenders of Wildlife. “The loss of the prairie dog was the loss of all of that. Some still remain, but nothing like it was. It was impressive by any standard.”

Learn more about prairie dogs and Defenders’ success at Thunder Basin. And stay tuned for Jonathan’s video footage from the field!

7 Responses to “Little dogs on the prairie”

  1. Chris Baroody

    Thanks for the uplifting story. With so much huberis and pharisaical posturing in the news today, it’s easy to forget that there are good people doing good things in the world.

  2. KathyFayedBenton

    I had a prairre dog that was bought from a pet store here in NW Florida back in the day when they were sold as pets he was a great pet but he only lived 5 years they say their life span is 5 to 7 years if the ban was to be lifted on them I would buy me another one cuz they are great pets they don’t need rabie shots no vet bills no diseases they’re clean animals food is cheap for them sweet potatoes & their pet nuggets they sleep in clay pots once it’s dark please lift the ban on prairre dogs they’re great pets I know if they were sold back in the pet stores people would buy them as they are cute & tiny pets mine fit in the palm of my hand I took mine in the car with me in a little kids hobo purse I miss my Smokey shame they don’t live as long as dogs or cats. Save the prairre dogs

  3. Margery Coffey

    While prairie dogs may make interesting pets, it would not be in the best interest of the prairie dog to do so. Prairie dogs are communal animals and to isolate one simply for the pleasure of another species is not good for the prairie dog. They need the interaction with their own species as an ongoing part of their lives. This is another reason why “exotic” pets are really not a good idea.

  4. s sureck

    KUDOS!! You are a NECESSARY ANGEL, and doing God’s work.
    Godspeed & God Bless!

  5. jaydin

    This is great i like that it was interesting but why are people and animals hurting them it doesn`t matter if they pose a threat it`s just life cry ariver build a bridge and get the frieken over it.

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