Prairie Dogs Become Prairie Gods; Have Humans Working for Them

A colony of black-tailed Prairie Dogs has been moved into a Texas Panhandle park and just to make sure the move would take -- local humans clawed through the earth, initiating the deep drilling that would follow.

"Park staff pre-drilled several holes to encourage the animals to being making their dens," a release from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department said.

Wouldn't prairie dogs do what comes naturally and figure it out for themselves?

Not necessarily. As anyone can tell you who has ever gone to all the trouble of installing a doggie door then found himself begging the canine to come through it by offering treats and/or crawling back and forth through the door himself in desperation -- animals don't always do what we think comes natural.

The black-tailed wonders are indigenous to the Texas Panhandle, but humans hunted the burrowing rodents (no, they aren't dogs) down to near extinction. According to the TPWD, people used to think prairie dogs were nuisance animals in competition with cows and other livestock.

Ah, but now that thinking has changed -- turns out when prairie dogs go out on the lone prairie, they tend to munch on non-native vegetation such as mesquite trees, "while increasing beneficial perennial grasses such as buffalo grass and blue grama." And there's even more they do just for being around somehow for the Burrowing Owls, Black-footed Ferrets and Swift Foxes.

So humans are now busy atoning for their sins as the prairie dogs gather up their families, linking to each other in underground networks and generally working on making more prairie dogs within a 15,000 -acre nature preserve at Caprock Canyons State Park.

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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
Contact: Margaret Downing