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February 1, 2010

Feb. 2 Celebrated as Prairie Dog Day in Western United States

DENVER — On Tuesday, people across the United States will watch Punxsutawney Phil to see whether his shadow will forecast six more weeks of winter. In the western states, wildlife groups are also calling attention to the groundhog's cousin — the prairie dog — by observing Feb. 2 as Prairie Dog Day.

"Prairie dogs deserve recognition and protection as an essential part of the prairie ecosystem. Nine different species of wildlife depend on prairie dog populations to survive," said Lindsey Sterling Krank, director of the Prairie Dog Coalition program of The Humane Society of the United States. "Threats such as habitat loss and poisoning campaigns have decimated the population of these intelligent, social animals across the West."

In Colorado, the Denver Zoo celebrated prairie dogs on Sunday with animal demonstrations, an art contest, a puppet show and a conservation lecture. On Friday, students from Lowry Elementary School learned about the importance of prairie dogs at the Plains Conservation Center in Aurora, Colo.

In Utah, student Luke Zitting authored a resolution asking the state legislature to officially recognize Feb. 2 as Prairie Dog Day. The 12-year-old Murray, Utah resident collected about a thousand signatures in support of the resolution, which he will deliver on Tuesday to state Rep. Tim Cosgrove at the Capitol.

Prairie Dog Facts

  • Prairie dogs are a keystone species, meaning that other animals — such as the black-footed ferret, mountain plover, swift fox and ferruginous hawk — rely on them to survive.
  • Prairie dog populations have declined nearly 95 percent due to habitat loss, government-sanctioned poisoning, and shooting.
  • Methods used to kill prairie dogs may be especially cruel, such as poisons that can take up to 72 hours to kill the animals.
  • "Contest kills," competitions that award prizes for killing the greatest number of wild animals, often target prairie dogs. These events are inhumane and kill animals who are an essential part of the prairie ecosystem. Resources to campaign against contest kills are available here

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The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the web at humanesociety.org.

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