Friday, November 2, 2012

Squirrel Facts: The Black Tailed Prairie Dog Needs Help

I have written about the black-tailed prairie dog before on this blog. Yesterday I created a petition on the website to try to help this species by banning the use of two horrible poisons. Although I understand that the chances of success are slim, I want to do my part to raise awareness of the cruelties that are being inflicted on these animals. I am asking that you sign the petition and help spread the word.

This large ground squirrel of the grassy prairie and plains regions of North America lives in large colonies that can number in the hundreds or even thousands. Within their "towns" prairie dogs live in extended family groups or "coteries" consisting of several related females, their first-year young, and one or two males. Members of the coterie engage in mutual grooming, greet each other with "kisses" and hugs, and cooperate in activities such as caring for young and watching for and alerting others of potential danger.

Black-tailed prairie dogs live in burrows which can be amazingly complex. Each burrow may have multiple entrances, increasing the chance for escape from predators. The tunnels, marked by entrances ringed with a mound of dirt to help keep out water, may be up to five meters deep and 30 meters long. A burrow will usually be used by several generations of prairie dogs, and when abandoned may be taken over by other animals.

Unfortunately, the black-tailed prairie dog has been unfairly demonized by cattle ranchers and land developers. Ranchers believed, incorrectly, that the prairie dogs were taking food that was needed by their herds of cattle. This belief, which persists to this day, has let to the mass extermination of prairie dogs from their range. Today, after more than a century of slaughter by shooting and poisoning, the black-tailed prairie dog occupies less than two percent of its former range. Now, in addition to ranchers, new enemies including suburban land developers and even many city and town governments are carrying out a war of extermination against this sociable, intelligent ground squirrel.

The ranchers' war against the black-tailed prairie dog is based on a myth. The fact is, prairie dogs coexisted on the plains and prairies with massive herds of bison for thousands of years before cattle ranching took over the region. Bison and cattle require a very similar diet, and the prairie dog actually provides a benefit to the growth of the grasses that they eat. Their tunneling activity churns and mixes the soil and organic matter, and helps with water retention in the soil. Overgrazing by cattle does considerably more damage to the land than the presence of prairie dogs, and the activity of the prairie dogs may actually help to repair some of the damage done by the cattle.

Prairie dogs are also a vital component of the natural plains and prairie ecosystems. Ecologists refer to the black-tailed prairie dog as a "keystone" species. This is because a large number of other species are dependent on the prairie dog. They provide food for many predators including the American badger, bobcat, coyote, snakes, weasels, bald and golden eagles, hawks, and the critically endangered black-footed ferret, which has been driven to the brink of extinction by the extermination of the black-tailed prairie dog from its range. Many other animals, including snakes and burrowing owls, use abandoned prairie dog burrows for their homes. In all, at least 140 other species benefit from the presence of prairie dogs in their ranges.

Among the most lethal weapons in the arsenal of the enemies of the prairie dog are two poisons, Rozol (chlorophacinone) and Kaput-D (diphacinone). These two products have been approved by the EPA for use in ten states, in spite of the utter cruelty that they inflict on their victims and the widespread harm that they do to the environment.

These chemicals are blood thinners. When a prairie dog or other animal eats the poison, it experiences a slow, painful decline and death by internal bleeding that may take several weeks. During that time the prairie dog becomes weak and disoriented, making it easier prey for carnivores. After death the poison will remain in the carcass. Any animals that eats the meat will also consume the poison.

Several years ago the Environmental Protection Agency considered and rejected listing the black-tailed prairie dog as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. It has also given approval to the use of these two cruel, dangerous poisons. I believe that the EPA is negligent in carrying out its intended mission. I hope that you will help by signing the petition and take a stand for the prairie dogs.

If you would like more information on black-tailed prairie dogs and the threats that they are facing, you can read more here for general black-tailed prairie dog info, and here for more on the effects of Rozol and Kaput-D.

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