Prairie dogs are herbivorous, burrowing rodents native to the grasslands of North America. These gregarious creatures live in family-oriented communities (towns) that may have 1,000 residents.
In the 17th century, prairie dogs inhabited 15% of the Great Plains. A single colony might have occupied 2 million hectares. Prairie dogs now live in 1% of their former range. Few prairie dog towns are left.
Prairie dogs are emblematic of habitat decline throughout the world. In this instance, the Great Plains grassland ecosystem is imperiled. Nearly 800 known animal species face extinction there. The black-footed ferret, which preys on prairie dogs, is a goner. Soon to follow are other predator species that rely upon prairie dogs: hawks, eagles, owls, plovers, and foxes.
The primary problem for prairie dogs is that they prefer to live in places that are flat: perfect for residential subdivisions and shopping centers. When people move in, they exterminate prairie dogs as a pest.