Black-tailed prairie dogs return to historical site in Arizona

Share or Bookmark:
| More
October 14th, 2008

Black-tailed prairie dogs return to historical site in Arizona

Nearly 50 years ago, they vanished from Arizona’s landscape, but thanks to a multi-partner reintroduction effort, black-tailed prairie dogs are making a comeback.

Black Tailed Prairie Dog ReleaseSeventy-four black-tailed prairie dogs captured at the Ladder Ranch in New Mexico were released yesterday into the wild in the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area near Sonoita. The reintroduction aims to repopulate these animals to where they once existed in Arizona.

“Black-tailed prairie dogs are a critical keystone species in Arizona, maintaining grasslands for other animals to forage and serving as important prey for eagles and hawks,” said Bill Van Pelt, the program manager for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. “Because of the far-reaching effect they have on other species, successful re-establishment would benefit the whole ecosystem by maintaining species diversity.”

The animals used to re-establish black-tailed prairie dogs in Arizona were chosen based on their similar genetics to the population that previously existed in the state.

Acclimation cages were used to prevent the animals from dispersing too quickly upon release and to allow them to adjust to their new environment. In time, the animals will burrow themselves out of the acclimation cages and be free to establish an underground network of tunnels.

This initial reintroduction site will be used to evaluate and modify the methods employed to reintroduce prairie dogs. Once the population is stable, Game and Fish plans to re-establish the species in up to five additional sites in southern Arizona toBlack Tailed Prairie Dog Release contribute towards the national and international conservation effort and preclude the need for listing as part of the Endangered Species Act.

The black-tailed prairie dog reintroduction is a collaborative effort between Game and Fish and the State Land Department. Volunteer support for the site preparation was provided by Sky Island Alliance, Animal Defense League and the Sierra Club.

Black-tailed prairie dogs are one of Arizona’s two native prairie dog species. The other species, which is found in northern Arizona, is the Gunnison’s prairie dog. Historically, the black-tailed prairie dog was the most widely distributed of the five prairie dog species and was commonly found in southeastern Arizona. Human-related factors, including poisoning and habitat fragmentation, greatly reduced their numbers range-wide over the last 150 years.

Black-tailed prairie dogs are approximately 15 inches long and weigh 2-3 pounds. These tan animals with black-tipped tails are highly social, living in coteries or family units. Family groups live close together to form larger colonies or towns.

Leave a Reply