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January 29, 2010

Let's Hear It for Prairie Dogs

Make room, Punxsutawney Phil: Prairie Dog Day is here to stay

The Humane Society of the United States

  • prairie dog

    The "jump-yip" dispay is a territorial call. Andrew Merwin

  • prairie dog dad and pups

    Prairie dogs are very social and live in closely knit family groups called "coteries". Lindsey Sterling-Krank/The HSUS

  • prairie dog pups

    Prairie dog pups leave the burrow at about 6 weeks of age. Elaine Miller Bond

  • It’s time for every prairie dog to have its day. Elaine Miller Bond

Each February 2, we celebrate the antics of a furry, burrowing rodent on Groundhog Day.  Across the country, the nightly news programs anticipate the annual prediction of Punxsutawney Phil—will he see his shadow this year, foretelling that winter will last another six weeks? 

But this year we turn to Punxsutawney Phil’s western cousin—another furry, burrowing rodent—the prairie dog of the Great Plains and Intermountain West. Let’s make February 2 Prairie Dog Day in the West.

Prairie dogs are amazing animals who play a vital role in maintaining healthy habitat for so many of the animals that make our western grasslands such amazing places. Sadly, when a prairie dog sees a shadow, it is often that of a looming bulldozer about to plow over her town, an exterminator ready to poison her and her colony mates, or a shooter aiming a lethal shot. 

There are five prairie dog species, and they are all in trouble.  Populations have declined by between 90-99 percent over the past 150 years. Prairie dogs are like the canary in the coal mine. What is happening to them is happening to the rest of the animals on the prairie.

Why are Prairie Dogs Important?

  • There are 246 wildlife species that benefit from prairie dogs.
  • Prairie dog burrows provide shelter for burrowing owls, snakes, cottontails, ferrets, invertebrates, lizards, toads, salamanders, and small rodents.
  • Prairie dogs provide food for a variety of grassland-animals including coyotes, raptors, snakes, badgers, black-footed ferrets, and foxes.
  • By digging and burrowing, prairie dogs churn the soil, making it more fertile.  The more they trim the grass, the more nutrient-enriched it becomes, attracting hooved-animals like bison and pronghorn.

Meet a Humane Hero

Together with WildEarth Guardians, we recognize Luke Zitting as a Humane Hero for his efforts to protect prairie dogs.

We will join Luke in Salt Lake City on February 2 as he delivers more than 1,000 signatures from Utah residents in support of Resolution # H.J.R. 21, which would  declare Feb. 2nd Prairie Dog Day.

Working Together for Prairie Dogs

If you are an advocate, educator, or an individual with a particular interest in prairie dogs and would like to celebrate Prairie Dog Day 2011 in your home town, contact us.

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