Please Help Save Prairie Dogs and Associated Wildlife

 A Black-tailed Prairie Dog jump-yipping at the Hutton Niobrara Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary. Photo by Ron Klataske

A Black-tailed Prairie Dog jump-yipping at the Hutton Niobrara Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary. Photo by Ron Klataske

AOK and Conservation Partners Successfully Rescue and Relocate Prairie Dogs

Audubon of Kansas (AOK), in partnership with Nebraska Wildlife Rehab Inc. (NRWI), has successfully rescued 223 prairie dogs from Nebraska's easternmost prairie dog colony and most have been relocated to the Hutton Niobrara Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary in northern Nebraska. The plan is to relocate the remaining juvenile prairie dogs (currently receiving special care in captivity by NWRI) later this month. These prairie dogs were stranded in what had been a 40-acre grassland plot formerly referred to as the Aldrich Prairie Research Site. It was part of a 320-acre property in Fillmore County that was willed to Doane University, but recently sold to a farmer and transformed from native prairie to soybeans. In addition to the loss of habitat, all prairie dogs faced the threat of extermination.

A former professor and vice president of Doane University asked for our help. To save these prairie dogs, AOK launched an effort to trap and transport the animals to the Hutton Niobrara Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary, which it owns and manages. This 5,000-acre ranch and wildlife sanctuary already provides a home to a relatively small colony of prairie dogs previously relocated there from the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge for educational, scientific, and ecological purposes. 

AOK has worked collaboratively with the new farm landowner, who allowed this rescue effort to take place during the last half of May and all of June. Volunteers associated with Doane University assisted during the first couple weeks. As the project proceeded, staff and volunteers with Nebraska Wildlife Rehab, Inc. conducted most of the trapping and transportation to the sanctuary using 250 traps acquired by AOK and the Prairie Dog Coalition, a unit of the Humane Society of the United States.

Conservationists in Nebraska greatly appreciated our collective efforts. Please find below a portion of a July 11, 2018 letter from Doane University President, Dr. Jacque Carter: 

"I thank the many people who stepped up to provide new solutions and options for consideration and support.  The black-tailed prairie dogs should thrive in the new refuge area with its gently sloped terrain ideal for burrowing and rich in short and tall grasses, forbs, and other low lying vegetation.  The colony will also benefit from the enduring protection of the Niobrara Sanctuary and the Great Plains Conservation Partnership Program of Audubon of Kansas, organizations devoted to the conservation of wildlife and the habitats they rely on."

 Ron Klataske, Executive Director of AOK, and Laura Stastny, Executive Director of Nebraska Wildlife Rehab, Inc. celebrating the relocation of prairie dogs at the Niobrara Sanctuary. Photo by Ryan Klataske

Ron Klataske, Executive Director of AOK, and Laura Stastny, Executive Director of Nebraska Wildlife Rehab, Inc. celebrating the relocation of prairie dogs at the Niobrara Sanctuary. Photo by Ryan Klataske

AOK works in Kansas, Nebraska, and throughout the central Great Plains. Its stewardship of the Hutton Niobrara Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary is built on a long history of trust and a commitment to conservation. AOK's executive director, Ron Klataske (then with the National Audubon Society), worked with the late rancher, Harold Hutton, during the 1980s and 90s to gain national scenic river designation for the Niobrara River, which succeeded in 1991. Following Harold's death, his wife Lucille asked Audubon of Kansas to accept the property and manage it as both a ranch and wildlife sanctuary. 

Now, approximately 300 prairie dogs have refuge on this land, within an old field in the center of the sanctuary managed specifically for the colony. Black-tailed Prairie Dogs are a keystone species in the North American prairie, playing a unique and crucial role in the ecosystem and providing food and/or shelter for a diversity of other species including Burrowing Owls, which nest in the burrows. Ornate Box Turtles, as well as an array of amphibians and reptiles also utilize the burrows. Ferruginous Hawks, Golden Eagles, Swift Foxes, and Badgers prey on prairie dogs. Once numbering in the billions, the prairie dog population in the Great Plains has declined by 98 percent. 

Check out two recent articles about this prairie dog rescue and relocation project:

Aldrich prairie dogs settling into new home near Niobrara River, Lincoln Journal Star, July 6, 2018

Animal lovers rescue 230 prairie dogs from former Doane University research site, Omaha World-Herald, July 8, 2018

 Ryan Klataske, along with Ron Klataske and both staff and volunteers from Nebraska Wildlife Rehab, Inc., helped release prairie dogs on the Niobrara Sanctuary. Photo by Ron Klataske

Ryan Klataske, along with Ron Klataske and both staff and volunteers from Nebraska Wildlife Rehab, Inc., helped release prairie dogs on the Niobrara Sanctuary. Photo by Ron Klataske

 A newly relocated prairie dog sits atop a burrow and observes its surroundings on the Niobrara Sanctuary. Dark hair dye was used to identify released prairie dogs. Photo by Ron Klataske

A newly relocated prairie dog sits atop a burrow and observes its surroundings on the Niobrara Sanctuary. Dark hair dye was used to identify released prairie dogs. Photo by Ron Klataske

AOK is recognized as an uncompromised leader for the conservation of prairie dogs and associated wildlife in the Great Plains, as well as an organization unparalleled in support for landowners who want to keep and conserve these and other native prairie species on their land. 

Rescuing prairie dogs when their habitat is threatened or destroyed is a last resort, but sometimes necessary.

So far in 2018, AOK has also assisted a rancher in Kansas as he defended his 3,600-acre property from a county plan to poison prairie dogs on his land, and a rancher in South Dakota who has withstood a similar threat by a county entity that wanted to poison her land to kill prairie dogs on her 8,000-acre ranch.

Please consider donating to our vital and far-reaching conservation efforts. Your support is essential and greatly appreciated.

Learn More About Our History of Prairie Dog Conservation

Conservation of Prairie Dogs and Reintroduction of Black-footed Ferrets Requires Courage, Prairie Wings, Fall / Winter 2011  

Prairie Dog Colony Reestablished at AOK's Niobrara Sanctuary, Prairie Wings, Winter 2012 / Spring 2013

Relocating a prairie dog colony, The Hutchinson News, Oct. 28, 2014


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