Better Chance at Survival

As my internship continues, I find it feels as new and exciting as the beginning. One of the things I love about this internship is that there is always something new to learn. I had to take some days off of work and as soon as I got back, I literally got my feet wet learning how to estimate fish population. As part of a monitoring effort, I helped out with shocking and counting fish at Bear Creek. Despite the numb fingers, wet clothes, and water in my boots, I thoroughly enjoyed this experience.

For these last two weeks, I have been working with prairie dog translocation, a task I both love and hate. Although I can understand some of the reasons why people may find prairie dogs to be a nuisance, it amazes me how cruel humans can be. If we stop and think about it, we are more of a nuisance to them – building over their homes, decreasing their habitat, and if that weren’t enough, shooting them for fun. I do not feel good trapping prairie dogs to take them from their home, separate them from their families, and move them to a completely different area where they must quickly learn to adapt. It seems ridiculous that as human beings we simply get rid of what we don’t want instead of finding ways to live in cooperation.

Prairie dogs belong to the Sciuridae (squirrel) family and are composed of five different species: Utah, Gunison’s, black-tailed, white-tailed, and Mexican prairie dog. As a keystone species, they are a crucial part of the North American prairies, benefiting around 150 other species and feeding animals like hawks, eagles, ferrets, foxes, and badgers. They also have one of the most complex communication systems ever studied. Con Slobodchikoff, professor at Northern Arizona University, has identified differences in calls for humans, coyotes, dogs, and hawks. Prairie dogs can even describe size, color, and location of predators. They also help aerate and fertilize the soil.

I enjoy working with these charismatic furry rodents. I feel good knowing that at least by translocating them, I am giving them a better chance of survival. There is a lot that can be done for all five species of prairie dog whose populations have dramatically plummeted. Currently, only the Mexican prairie dog is listed as endangered and the Utah prairie dog as threatened. The most important, and perhaps the most challenging, is to have a shift in people’s perspective on the way we treat other beings. Through better understanding and different alternatives, people may shift their attitude towards what they consider pests.

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