Prairie Dogs 

One hundred and fifty years ago, billions of prairie dogs covered the prairies of western North America. The population has been drastically reduced as the prairie dog came into disfavor. Humans saw the rodent as a pest. Prairie dog populations drastically dwindled from killing them and destroying their habitat. Prairie dogs, however, are an intricate part of the ecosystem, and studying them will help us understand how these creatures are important, and perhaps we can learn something about ourselves. These animals do have an advocate.

John Hoogland, professor of biology at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (http://www.umces.edu/), has studied the social behavior of prairie dogs for over forty years. His latest research takes him to the Valles Caldera National Preserve (http://www.vallescaldera.gov/) atop the Jemez (hay-mes) Mountains in north central New Mexico in the southwestern United States. I intend to produce a one hour video documentary on Professor Hoogland's research at the Valles Caldera National Preserve. The documentary will be available to schools, universities, and libraries as free digital downloads. The documentary will target elementary students, showing them the interesting lives of prairie dogs, as well as introducing them to the techniques used by Professor Hoogland in his research. The mission of the project is to get children excited about science, and to educate the public about the importance of prairie dogs to the grassland ecosytems of western North America.

In the autumn of 2014, we filmed Professor Hoogland and his assistants as they live trapped and marked prairie dogs from the study colony. We spent several days recording the setting of traps, the trapping of the animals, examining, marking, and releasing each prairie dog. The marking, made with fur dye, gives each creature a unique mark so that Hoogland can identify the individual prairie dog. In this way Hoogland and his assistants can observe the individuals of the study colony as they emerge from hibernation in the spring. In April, Hoogland will capture pregnant females for an ultra sound to see how many fetuses are being carried. Then in late spring the research team will observe the colony as new pups appear above ground from the natal burrows for the first time. Hoogland and his team will live trap all the adults and juveniles, and he will make a new census of the colony.


Our crew will spend two weeks and a couple of days this spring with the research team to document the prairie dogs as they come out of hibernation when mating season begins. According to Professor Hoogland, the activity at this time is entertaining as the males compete for females, and predators such as coyotes, bobcats, and badgers, look for an opportunity to have a meal. Then in April we will return for a couple of days as Hoogland captures pregnant females for ultra sounds. In late May and early June our film crew will again join the research team as they observe the first appearance of the new pups above ground. We will record the capturing, examining and release of the new pups.           

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