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January 14, 2010

The Prairie Dog Protector

Twelve-year-old in Utah advocates for protection of this threatened species

  • Luke (right) and his brother Paul care about saving animals. L. Zitting

Twelve-year-old Luke Zitting first learned about prairie dogs as a member of the Jane Goodall Institute's Roots & Shoots program. Immediately, he wanted to do something to help stop the abuse of these furry little creatures.

He went to his local city council and explained that he was working with the Prairie Dog Coalition to protect animals in the Great Plains.

"Prairie dogs are a keystone species. Like the keystone that supports buildings, keystone species keep ecosystems healthy. Prairie dogs are a key to nine other species, such as hawks, owls, foxes, birds, and many others that depend on prairie dogs for food or shelter," Luke explained. "The prairie dog population across the West has declined as much as 95 percent. Prairie dogs are poisoned, shot, bulldozed, or otherwise removed from their homes. This is done to make way for building projects and livestock operations. The good news is that prairie dogs have seen an increase in people who are concerned about them. Children especially want to help. They love watching these very social animals."

Every prairie dog has his day
After meeting with the city council, Luke decided to take the issue to the next level. He wrote a resolution to be considered by the Utah State Legislature. The resolution promotes prairie dog protection and the celebration of prairie dogs on "Prairie Dog Day" each February 2nd. Prairie dogs would share the date with their cousins, the groundhogs!

In order to get his resolution passed, Luke asked people to support it by signing a petition. He has gathered signatures outside his school lunch room and at a pet supply store, collecting nearly 700 signatures so far. If you live in Utah, you can help: Add your signature to the petition to declare February 2 "Prairie Dog Day" in Utah.

This story also appears in the February 2010 issue of KIND News, our classroom newspaper for K-6 students. Click here to learn more and send KIND News to a student or teacher you know!

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