Can Prairie Dogs Talk?

Con Slobodchikoff and I approached the mountain meadow slowly, obliquely, softening our footfalls and conversing in whispers. It didn’t make much difference. Once we were within 50 feet of the clearing’s edge, the alarm sounded: short, shrill notes in rapid sequence, like rounds of sonic bullets.

We had just trespassed on a prairie-dog colony. A North American analogue to Africa’s meerkat, the prairie dog is trepidation incarnate. It lives in subterranean societies of neighboring burrows, surfacing to forage during the day and rarely venturing more than a few hundred feet from the center of town. The moment it detects a hawk, coyote, human or any other threat, it cries out to alert the cohort and takes appropriate evasive action. A prairie dog’s voice has about as much acoustic appeal as a chew toy. French explorers called the rodents petits chiens because they thought they sounded like incessantly yippy versions of their pets back home.

On this searing summer morning, Slobodchikoff had taken us to a tract of well-trodden wilderness on the grounds of the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff. Distressed squeaks flew from the grass, but the vegetation itself remained still; most of the prairie dogs had retreated underground. We continued along a dirt path bisecting the meadow, startling a prairie dog that was peering out of a burrow to our immediate right. It chirped at us a few times, then stared silently.

“Hello,” Slobodchikoff said, stooping a bit. A stout bald man with a scraggly white beard and wine-dark lips, Slobodchikoff speaks with a gentler and more lilting voice than you might expect. “Hi, guy. What do you think? Are we worth calling about? Hmm?”

Slobodchikoff, an emeritus professor of biology at Northern Arizona University, has been analyzing the sounds of prairie dogs for more than 30 years. Not long after he started, he learned that prairie dogs had distinct alarm calls for different predators. Around the same time, separate researchers found that a few other species had similar vocabularies of danger. What Slobodchikoff claimed to discover in the following decades, however, was extraordinary: Beyond identifying the type of predator, prairie-dog calls also specified its size, shape, color and speed; the animals could even combine the structural elements of their calls in novel ways to describe something they had never seen before. No scientist had ever put forward such a thorough guide to the native tongue of a wild species or discovered one so intricate. Prairie-dog communication is so complex, Slobodchikoff says — so expressive and rich in information — that it constitutes nothing less than language.

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That would be an audacious claim to make about even the most overtly intelligent species — say, a chimpanzee or a dolphin — let alone some kind of dirt hamster with a brain that barely weighs more than a grape. The majority of linguists and animal-communication experts maintain that language is restricted to a single species: ourselves. Perhaps because it is so ostensibly entwined with thought, with consciousness and our sense of self, language is the last bastion encircling human exceptionalism. To concede that we share language with other species is to finally and fully admit that we are different from other animals only in degrees not in kind. In many people’s minds, language is the “cardinal distinction between man and animal, a sheerly dividing line as abrupt and immovable as a cliff,” as Tom Wolfe argues in his book “The Kingdom of Speech,” published last year.

Slobodchikoff thinks that dividing line is an illusion. To him, the idea that a human might have a two-way conversation with another species, even a humble prairie dog, is not a pretense; it’s an inevitability. And the notion that animals of all kinds routinely engage in sophisticated discourse with one another — that the world’s ecosystems reverberate with elaborate animal idioms just waiting to be translated — is not Doctor Dolittle-inspired nonsense; it is fact.

Like “life” and “consciousness,” “language” is one of those words whose frequent and casual use papers over an epistemological chasm: No one really knows what language is or how it originated. At the center of this conundrum is a much-pondered question about the relationship between language and cognition more generally. Namely, did the mind create language or did language create the mind? Throughout history, philosophers, linguists and scientists have argued eloquently for each possibility. Some have contended that thought and conscious experience necessarily predate language and that language evolved later, as a way to share thoughts. Others have declared that language is the very marrow of consciousness, that the latter requires the former as a foundation.

In lieu of a precise definition for language, many experts and textbooks fall back on the work of the American linguist Charles Hockett, who in the 1950s and ’60s proposed a set of more than a dozen “design features” that characterize language, like semanticity — distinct sounds and symbols with specific meanings — and displacement, the ability to speak of things outside your immediate environment. He acknowledged that numerous animal-communication systems had at least some of these features but maintained that only human language boasted them all. For those who think that language is a prerequisite for consciousness, the unavoidable conclusion is that animals possess neither.

To many biologists and neuroscientists, however, this notion smacks of anthropocentrism. There is now a consensus that numerous species, including birds and mammals, as well as octopuses and honeybees, have some degree of consciousness, that is, a subjective experience of the world — they feel, think, remember, plan and in some cases possess a sense of self. In parallel, although few scientists are as ready as Slobodchikoff to proclaim the existence of nonhuman language, the idea that many species have language-like abilities, that animal communication is vastly more sophisticated than Hockett and his peers realized, is gaining credence. “It’s increasingly obvious just how much information is encoded in animal calls,” says Holly Root-Gutteridge, a bioacoustician at the University of Sussex. “There’s now a preponderance of evidence.”

In the 1990s, inspired in part by Slobodchikoff’s studies, the primatologist Klaus Zuberbühler began investigating monkey vocalizations in the dense and cacophonous forests of the Ivory Coast in Africa. Over the years, he and his colleagues discovered that adult male Campbell’s monkeys change the meaning of their screeches by combining distinct calls in specific sequences, adding or omitting an “oo” suffix. Krak exclusively warns of a leopard, but krak-oo is a generalized alarm call; isolated pairs of booms are a “Come this way!” command, but booms preceding krak-oos denote falling tree branches. Studies of songbirds have also uncovered similar complexity in their communication. Japanese great tits, for example, tell one another to scan for danger using one string of chirps and a different set of notes to encourage others to move closer to the caller. When researchers played the warning followed by the invitation, the birds combined the commands, approaching the speaker only after cautiously surveying the area. In the South Pacific, biologists have shown that humpback-whale songs are neither random nor innate: rather, migrating pods of humpback whales learn one another’s songs, which evolve over time and spread through the ocean in waves of “cultural revolution.” And baby bottlenose dolphins develop “signature whistles” that serve as their names in a kind of roll call among kin.

With the help of human tutors, some captive animals have developed especially impressive linguistic prowess. Dolphins have learned to mimic computer-generated whistles and use them as labels for objects like hoops and balls. A bonobo known as Kanzi communicates with a touch-screen displaying hundreds of lexigrams, occasionally combining the symbols with hand gestures to form simple phrases. And over the course of a 30-year research project, an African gray parrot named Alex learned to identify seven colors, five shapes, quantities up to eight and more than 50 objects; he could correctly pick out the number of, for instance, green wooden blocks on a tray with more than a dozen objects; he routinely said “no,” “come here” and “wanna go X” to get what he desired; and on occasion he spontaneously combined words from his growing vocabulary into descriptive phrases, like “yummy bread” for cake.

Slobodchikoff’s studies on prairie dogs have long hovered on the periphery of this burgeoning field. Unknown to Slobodchikoff, around the same time that he began recording prairie-dog alarm calls in Flagstaff, Peter Marler, the renowned animal-communication expert and one of Slobodchikoff’s former professors, was working on a similar study, one that would eventually redefine the field. In the spring of 1977, Marler sent Robert Seyfarth and Dorothy Cheney — a young husband-and-wife duo of primate scientists — to Amboseli, Kenya, to study the alarm calls of small silver-haired monkeys known as vervets. Earlier research had hinted that vervet monkeys produced different vocal warnings for different predators: a kind of bark to warn of a leopard; a low-pitched staccato rraup for a martial eagle; and a high-pitched chutter for a python. Seyfarth and Cheney decided to further investigate these findings in a controlled field experiment.

The two scientists hid a loudspeaker in the bushes near different groups of vervets and played recordings of their alarm calls, documenting the monkeys’ responses. Even in the absence of actual predators, the recordings evoked the appropriate escape strategies. Leopard-alarm calls sent monkeys scampering into the trees. When they heard eagle-alarm calls, they looked up and took cover in the bushes. In response to the warning for snakes, the primates reared up on their hind legs and scanned the ground. Contrary to the consensus of the time, the researchers argued that the sounds animals made were not always involuntary expressions of physiological states, like pain, hunger or excitement. Instead, some animals systematically used sounds as symbols. In both academia and the popular press, vervet monkeys became celebrated mascots for the language-like abilities of animals.

While the vervet research won acclaim, Slobodchikoff’s remained frustratingly sidelined. Marler, Seyfarth and Cheney worked for the well-staffed and moneyed Rockefeller University in New York; Slobodchikoff conducted his studies on a shoestring budget, compiling funds from the university’s biology department, very occasional grants and his own bank account. Slobodchikoff did not collect enough data to formally present his research at a conference until 1986. And it was not until 2006 that he published a study with the same kind of playback techniques that Cheney and Seyfarth used in Kenya, which are essential to demonstrating that an animal comprehends and exploits the variation in its calls. Although many scientists attended Slobodchikoff’s talks at conferences and spoke with him about his research in private, they rarely referenced his studies when publishing their own. And despite a few news stories and nature documentaries, prairie dogs have not secured a seat in public consciousness as a cognitively interesting species.

It did not take long for Slobodchikoff to master the basic vocabulary of Flagstaff’s native prairie dogs. Prairie-dog alarm calls are the vocal equivalent of wartime telegrams: concise, abrupt, stripped to essentials. On a typical research day, Slobodchikoff and three or four graduate students or local volunteers visited one of six prairie-dog colonies they had selected for observation in and around Flagstaff. They usually arrived in the predawn hours, before the creatures emerged from their slumber, and climbed into one of the observation towers they had constructed on the colonies: stilted plywood platforms 10 feet high, covered by tarps or burlap sacks with small openings for microphones and cameras. By waiting, watching and recording, Slobodchikoff soon learned to discriminate between “Hawk!” “Human!” and so on — a talent that he says anyone can develop with practice. And when he mapped out his recordings as sonograms, he could see clear distinctions in wavelength and amplitude among the different calls.

He also discovered consistent variations in how prairie dogs use their alarm calls to evade predators. When a human appeared, the first prairie dog to spot the intruder gave a sequence of barks, which sent a majority of clan members scurrying underground. When a hawk swooped into view, one or a few prairies dogs each gave a single bark and any animal in the flight path raced back to the burrow. (Slobodchikoff suspects that, because of a hawk’s speed, there’s little time for a more complex call.) The presence of a coyote inspired a chorus of alarm calls throughout the colony as prairie dogs ran to the lips of their burrows and waited to see what the canine would do next. When confronted with a domestic dog, however, prairie dogs stood upright wherever they were, squeaking and watching, presumably because tame, leashed dogs were generally, though not always, harmless.

Something in Slobodchikoff’s data troubled him, however. There was too much variation in the acoustic structure of alarm calls, much more than would be expected if their only purpose was to distinguish between types of predator. Slobodchikoff arranged for various dogs — a husky, a golden retriever, a Dalmatian and a cocker spaniel — to wander through a prairie-dog colony one at a time. The recorded alarm calls were still highly variable, even though the intruders all belonged to the same predator class. “That led me to think, What if they are actually describing physical features?” Slobodchikoff remembers. What if, instead of barking out nouns, prairie dogs were forming something closer to descriptive phrases?

To find out, he became a participant in his own experiment. Slobodchikoff and three colleagues paraded through two prairie-dog colonies dressed in either jeans and white lab coats, or jeans and variously colored shirts: blue, gray, orange, green. The prairie dogs produced highly similar alarm calls for each person in the lab coat, except for one especially short researcher. But they chirped in very different ways for most of the different colored shirts. In a related experiment, three slender women differing in height by just a bit meandered through a prairie-dog habitat dressed identically except for the color of their T-shirts. Again the animals varied their calls. And in another study, prairie dogs changed the rate of their chirping to reflect the speed of an approaching human.

If prairie dogs had sounds for color and speed, Slobodchikoff wondered, what else could they articulate? This time, he and his colleagues designed a more elaborate test. First they built plywood silhouettes of a coyote and a skunk, as well as a plywood oval (to confront the prairie dogs with something foreign), and painted the three shapes black. Then they strung a nylon cord between a tree and an observation tower, attached the plywood figures to slotted wheels on the cord and pulled them across the colony like pieces of laundry. Despite their lack of familiarity with these props, the prairie dogs did not respond to the cutouts with a single generalized “unknown threat” call. Rather, their warnings differed depending on the attributes of the object. They unanimously produced one alarm call for the coyote silhouette; a distinct warning for the skunk; and a third, entirely novel call for the oval. And in a follow-up study, prairie dogs consistently barked in distinct ways at small and large cardboard squares strung above the colony. Instead of relying on a fixed repertory of alarm calls, they were modifying their exclamations in the moment to create something new — a hallmark of language Hockett called “productivity.”


Letter in the NY Times re: Donald Trump Jr.’s Hunting

To the Editor:

According to news reports, Donald Trump Jr. spent Earth Day shooting prairie dogs in Montana. His guide was Greg Gianforte, a Republican candidate for Congress and himself a hunting enthusiast. Prairie dogs are not killed to be eaten, but strictly for fun.

Fun? What’s wrong with these people? How can killing defenseless rodents in their natural habitat be seen as fun? This fact further underscores how pathetic and callous the Trump family is. C’mon, Don Jr., really?!


Trump Junior’s plans for Saturday morning in Montana causing controversy

Apr 19, 2017 6:38 PM PDTUpdated: Apr 19, 2017 6:38 PM PDT

Trump Junior’s plans for Saturday morning in Montana causing controversy
BOZEMAN –We are learning more about Trump Junior’s plans for Saturday morning and it’s sparking some controversy with local environmentalists. The Ravalli Republic reported that Gianforte told a crowd in Hamilton Monday that he plans to take Donald Trump Jr. Out to shoot prairie dogs.

It’s important to note that shooting prairie dogs in Montana is completely legal, but at least one wildlife advocate says it is far from ethical.

Dave Pauli Senior Advisor for Wildlife Policy with the Humane Society of The United States said, “I was disappointed I guess that any national or international politician or celebrity would have the opportunity to come to Montana in the spring and their first choice of things they want to do is shoot prairie dogs.”

In a Facebook post posted on Wednesday, Pauli voiced his frustrations about the idea of Gianforte and Trump Jr. Spending their time in Montana shooting prairie dogs.

The Facebook post has garnered a lot of attention with more than 300 likes and 400 shares in just a few hours. And there are plenty of comments on both sides of the issue.

Ruth Gessler Farnsworth simply said, “Awful.”

While Jeremy Parish said, “totally legal and encouraged. Just like the coyote slaughter in most states.”

Shane Scanlon Communication Director for Greg Gianoforte says Ginaforte is proud to hunt in Montana. Scanlon released a statement saying…

“Hunting is a big part of gain forte’s life; he’s a sportsman and an outdoorsman and tries to get out when he can. He’s just looking to have a good time with Donald Trump Jr. and shooting some prairie dogs this weekend.”

Pauli says he’d rather see the duo hit a shooting range.

Trump Junior’s first appearance in Montana will be on Friday in Kalispell, from there he will visit Hamilton and close out his trip in Bozeman.

He’s attending several fundraisers for Gianforte who is running against Democrat Rob Quist for Montana’s lone congressional seat.

Threatened Utah prairie dogs have their day in court … and win

Environmentalists praised the three-judge appeals court panel’s decision overturning an earlier ruling and protecting the foot-long rodents, which property rights activists say threaten farm animals and development with their massive underground colonies.

“This is huge, not only for the prairie dog but for the Endangered Species Act,” Michael Harris, legal director for Friends of Animals, a conservation group involved in the case, said in a phone interview Wednesday.

The plaintiffs in the case, People for the Ethical Treatment of Property Owners, had argued that the federal government did not have authority over a species that existed only in one state.

They said that while they acknowledge the importance of the species, known to build vast underground networks of tunnels, which have been found under cemeteries and golf courses, they would ask for a review of the panel’s decision by the full court.

“Let it be on the prairie, let it be on land away from the developments,” Brett Taylor, the group’s vice president, told Reuters.

Distinguished by a black “eyebrow” marking over each eye, Utah prairie dogs numbered about 95,000 around 1920, but by 1972 their population had fallen to about 3,300 due to disease and people killing them.

The extremely social species was declared endangered the following year, but after its numbers grew again it was reclassified as threatened. Populations remain precariously low, according to the National Park Service.

Wednesday’s ruling affirmed the existing standard of allowing the federal government to limit local development using the Endangered Species Act, the 1973 law intended to protect species at risk of extinction.

In the majority opinion, Judge Jerome Holmes wrote that overturning the earlier ruling was in line with actions by previous circuit courts, which have ruled uniformly to protect the Endangered Species Act in similar cases.

(Reporting by Tom James in Seattle; Editing by Patrick Enright and Andrew Hay)

Serial Killing for Shopping Malls

The Earth is being raped, strangled and left for dead by people who care only about themselves and what they can get in the short term. The suffering of others is inconsequential. Indeed, they pride themselves in their ability to disregard the cries and struggles of their targets, whom they objectify while denying their very sentience. Like psychopathic serial killers, they ignore the rights and welfare of their victims, intentional or incidental.

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson

Activists continue fight for prairie dogs

Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson

Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson

by Mike DiFerdinando  3/2/15

Group explores options to protect wildlife from future development

As protesters stood at Founders Parkway and Factory Shops Boulevard — waving signs and shouting at drivers to help save the prairie dogs — a few hundred yards behind them exterminators were already laying traps.

The grass-roots campaign, called Save the Castle Rock Prairie Dogs, wants to push back the construction of the Promenade at Castle Rock, at the north end of town between I-25 and U.S. Highway 85, near the Outlets at Castle Rock, until June.

That’s when the animals, many of them pregnant, could be moved. The prairie dogs are being trapped with baited cages. It is unknown how or if they are being killed at this time.

“Of course I was at the protest,” said Castle Rock resident Keith Lattimore-Walsh, one of about 40 protesters at the Feb. 24 rally. “My heart won’t allow me to do anything less than to fight for those who cannot speak.”

The controversy is part of the town’s continued conversation about growth and began when more than 20 residents spoke out against the Promenade at the Feb. 17 council meeting.

Activists said they hope snowy conditions and the slow pace of capture will give them time to find available land for relocation of the colony — about 1,000 prairie dogs.

“It’s slow, they aren’t capturing many at a time,” said Brian Ertz, board president of the activist organization the Wildlands Defense.

Alberta Development Partners, the developer behind the Promenade, could not be reached for comment about the removal of the prairie dogs, despite repeated attempts by the News-Press.

Town officials reiterated their stance that the situation is a matter of a private developer building on private land, therefore they have no jurisdiction to stop or delay construction.

This would be different if the prairie dogs were protected by state law, which they aren’t, because they are not an endangered species. [Not officially, buy they should be on the list–I challenge anyone who says prairie dogs are still common throughout the state.]


Urge Colorado Developer to Halt Prairie Dog Massacre!

Poisoning and fumigation—the most common methods of killing prairie dogs—cause convulsions, vomiting, internal bleeding, gradual pulmonary and cardiac collapse, and a variety of other reactions that cause animals immense suffering and a slow, agonizing death. Yet developers of The Promenade at Castle Rock, a 160-acre mall project underway in the town of Castle Rock, Colorado, reportedly want to massacre hundreds (possibly thousands) of these animals who call the site’s open spaces and wetland areas their home. And despite an outcry from compassionate citizens, the Castle Rock Town Council has green-lighted this slaughter, which is scheduled to occur in the coming weeks. Your voice is needed!

Using the form below, please politely urge Alberta Development Partners and Castle Rock officials to halt this cruel killing initiative and to employ humane prairie dog control methods instead. And please forward this message widely!

Please send polite comments to:

Peter Cudlip, Principal
Alberta Development Partners

Castle Rock Town Council

Please feel free to use our sample letter, but remember that using your own words is always more effective.

Essential Species Quiz

Here is a short multiple-choice quiz to test your knowledge of our fellow animals.

Instructions: Choose the species that best fit the descriptions below.

Note: Although some may share a few of the characteristics, they must meet all the criteria listed in order to qualify as a correct answer.

1. Which two species fit the following description?

  • Highly social
  • Live in established communities
  • Master planners and builders of complex, interconnected dwellings
  • Have a language
  • Can readily learn and invent words
  • Greet one another by kissing

A. Humans

B. Prairie Dogs

C. Dolphins

D. Penguins

Answer:  A. and B

2. Which two species fit the following description?

  • Practice communal care of the youngsters on their block
  • Beneficial to others who share their turf
  • Essential to the health of their environment
  • Without them an ecosystem unravels
  • Have been reduced to a tiny portion of their original population
  • Vegetarian

A. Humans

B. Prairie Dogs

C. Bison

D. Hyenas

Answer:  B. and C.

3. Which two species fit the following description?

  • Out of control pest
  • Multiplying at a phenomenal pace
  • Physically crowding all other life forms off the face of the earth
  • Characterized by a swellheaded sense of superiority
  • Convinced they are of far greater significance than any other being
  • Nonessential in nature’s scheme

A. Humans

B. Prairie Dogs

C. Cockroaches

D. Sewer Rats

Answer:  Sorry, trick question; the only species fitting the criteria is A.

If this seems a harsh assessment of the human race or a tad bit misanthropic, remember, we’re talking about the species that single-handedly and with malice aforethought blasted, burned and poisoned the passenger pigeon (at one time the most numerous bird on the entire planet) to extinction and has nearly wiped out the blue whale (by far the largest animal the world has ever known). Add to those crowning achievements the near-total riddance of the world’s prairie dogs, thereby putting the squeeze on practically all their grassland comrades, and you can start to see where this sort of disrelish might be coming from.

When the dust settles on man’s reign of terror, he will be best remembered as an egomaniacal mutant carnivorous ape who squandered nature’s gifts and goose-stepped on towards mass extinction, in spite of warnings from historians and scientists and pleas from the caring few…


The preceding was an excert from the book, Exposing the Big Game.

Happy Prairie Dog Day!

      Keystone Prairie Dogs

Celebrate Prairie Dog Day

February 2nd has been nationally recognized as Groundhog Day since 1841, but in recent years, wildlife organizations officially added Prairie Dog Day to the date as a way to inform and educate the public on how important they are to the prairie ecosystem.

Urgent Call to Action

A Colorado mall developer takes lethal path with plans to kill approximately 5000 prairie dogs to construct a supermall in Castle Rock.  Protestors hope to force Alberta Development LLC to delay their extermination plans until June 1, to give conservationists time to find and prepare land where the prairie dogs can be safely moved, while the females will remain underground with their babies.  If the developer proceeds with the current timeframe, it will cause thousands of prairie dogs that aren’t trapped and killed to be fatally entombed.  READ FULL STORY HERE.

Federal Prairie Dog Conservation Report Remains Grim

WildEarth Guardians released their seventh annual Report from the Burrow to coincide with Prairie Dog Day and the grades given to federal and state agencies on the success of managing prairie dog populations remain poor.  The report reveals that “while a few states and federal agencies are improving their prairie dog conservation efforts—the generally deplorable status quo, where these intelligent, ecologically important animals are treated as pests and widely poisoned, gassed and shot—remains largely unchanged.”  Grades range from a B shared by the National Park Service and the state of Arizona to an F given to the Environmental Protection Agency.  SEE THE REPORT HERE.

Goodbye to PrairieDogPress

Since October 2012, PrairieDogPress has been the marketing arm of Keystone Prairie Dogs with footnotes to the KPD website linked at the bottom of each article published at the online news site Allvoices/Pulsepoint.  However, due to changes in that company’s platform to sponsored content only, freelance contractors will no longer be able to publish on the site, though their pages will remain as copyrighted property of AV.  Therefore, since the Examiner column KPD utilizes for wildlife and prairie dog content prohibits such promotion, KPD launched its own political and social commentary Facebook platform designed to broaden exposure.  The new page is called “Keystone Prairie Dogs Sunnyside Left” and we invite everyone to stop by, check it out and give us a “like”. IT CAN BE ACCESSED HERE.

Also, Keystone Prairie Dog website recently added two new pages: Newsroom and Memes.  CHECK THEM OUT HERE.

Thanks for your support of America’s meerkats and have a great spring everyone!

Prairie Dog Plague Could Hurt Hunting Business

Photo Copyright Jim Robertson

Photo Copyright Jim Robertson

Many outfitters bring clients in to hunt pheasants, deer, and even prairie dogs in South Dakota. Recently the population of prairie dogs has been hurt by a plague, but hunters are still showing up in droves.

Prairie dogs may look cute, but their effects on pastures can be catastrophic.

“The prairie dogs from a ranchers stand point eat a lot of grass and almost mow it down to just basically dirt. They do a pretty good job of hurting the value of the land and how well you can utilize it, “said co-owner of Buffalo Butte Dillon Springer.

Some land owners though have found opportunity with the reckless rodents, which some affectionately call the barking squirrel.

“We started doing it five or six years ago just as a small blurb, some of our pheasant hunters wanted to do it, “said Springer.

A recent outbreak of Sylvatic plague has put a huge dent in some prairie dog populations, and that’s a good thing right? Not for outfitters who cater to clients who travel from all over the country to hunt the critters.

“You take those folks from the city who never see land that stretches out as far as this does, and they’ve got their guns that they just can’t shoot, “said Springer.

For many the prairie dog hunt brings a laugh and a reasonably easy shot. But they are now an important slice of the revenue pie for the outfitters.

“They are pretty resilient critters, they can bounce back from a lot of stuff, “said Springer.

Even with a plague and hunters trying to eradicate the vermin, they continue to hold their ground.