Return of Prairie Dogs and Associated Wildlife: Video and Update

As we announced earlier this summer, Audubon of Kansas (AOK) has led a partnership of dedicated individuals and organizations to rescue and relocate hundreds of prairie dogs from Nebraska's easternmost prairie dog colony in Fillmore County to the Hutton Niobrara Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary in northern Nebraska. These prairie dogs were stranded on land willed to Doane University, which was sold and transformed from native prairie to soybeans and corn. See our previous report here: https://conta.cc/2LeyQlt

At the end of August, AOK and Nebraska Wildlife Rehab Inc. (NWHI) relocated the last of the prairie dogs, bringing an end to a highly successful rescue and relocation effort. This story, however, is far from over as these intrepid animals adapt to life on the Sanctuary, supporting a diversity of other species. Continue reading our latest news and update on the project below, also featured in a new video by Dave Kendall titled "Return of Prairie Dogs and Associated Wildlife." 

With your support, AOK will also continue to fight for the conservation of prairie dogs and associated wildlife, as well as the right of landowners throughout the central Great Plains to protect and conserve these native species on their land.

Prairie Dog Relocation Update

Relocation of the last 47 prairie dogs to the Hutton Niobrara Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary from the former prairie research site on land previously owned by Doane University was accomplished over the weekend of August 25-26. All prairie dogs were juveniles captured in traps in June from the land that was sold and converted to cultivation.

Prairie dog release Aug 2018 by Ron Klataske.jpg

The juveniles had been held and cared for by staff and volunteers with Nebraska Wildlife Rehab Inc. (NWHI) to give them an enhanced opportunity to survive following release in the previously established prairie dog colony on the sanctuary. The Sanctuary colony was initially established in 2012 by Audubon of Kansas (AOK) with capture and relocation of prairie dogs from the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge. AOK owns and manages the 5,000-acre wildlife sanctuary in Rock County. 

This year, in early July, the first group of 176 prairie dogs from the Fillmore County site were released on the sanctuary. They included adults and extended family groups of prairie dogs (called coteries). Many were marked with black dye and observations indicate that they have successfully settled in within the prairie dog colony at the sanctuary that was previously established on a 15-acre site.

  The relocated prairie dogs were marked with a hair dye so they can be identified and monitored, hopefully demonstrating survival in their new surroundings. They were then placed in above-ground cages connected to the underground "nest" boxes and retained in this secure facility for about a week. Photos by Ron Klataske.

The relocated prairie dogs were marked with a hair dye so they can be identified and monitored, hopefully demonstrating survival in their new surroundings. They were then placed in above-ground cages connected to the underground "nest" boxes and retained in this secure facility for about a week. Photos by Ron Klataske.

Prairie dog release Aug 2018 cage © Ron Klataske.jpg

Prairie dogs are keystone species. That means they contribute to the existence and/or abundance of many other species of wildlife that benefit from their burrows, from the closely-clipped vegetation, and from the presence of prairie dogs as a food source. Burrowing Owls nest in their burrows and feed on grasshoppers and beetles. Golden Eagles, Ferruginous Hawks, Swift Foxes, Badgers and Black-footed Ferrets (in rare instances where this federally endangered species has been reintroduced) and many other species prey on prairie dogs.

"Starter burrows" dug with a tractor-mounted post-hole digger were employed in the earlier release. However, for the release at the end of August, secure 2'X2' wooden "nest" boxes were built by a volunteer with NWHI. Eight were placed at a depth of four feet underground. Each has two tubes serving as burrows extending to the surface. An above-ground cage contained the prairie dogs for the first week while they became familiar with their new home. This strategy was developed by the Prairie Dog Coalition located in Boulder Colorado.

  Eight wooden "nest" boxes were buried four feet underground, each with two PVC duct hoses extended to the surface. They were installed to accommodate and provide security for the 47 juvenile prairie dogs brought to the sanctuary on August 25. The above ground cages provided an opportunity for the prairie dogs to become familiar with the new colony site. Photos by Ron Klataske.

Eight wooden "nest" boxes were buried four feet underground, each with two PVC duct hoses extended to the surface. They were installed to accommodate and provide security for the 47 juvenile prairie dogs brought to the sanctuary on August 25. The above ground cages provided an opportunity for the prairie dogs to become familiar with the new colony site. Photos by Ron Klataske.

Prairie dog release excavating Aug 2018 4 © Ron Klataske.jpg

Audubon of Kansas is a leading organization assisting landowners and other stakeholders with management and conservation of prairie dogs and associated wildlife in the central Great Plains. So far in 2018, AOK has supported landowners in Kansas and South Dakota with challenges presented by misguided county officials who have tried to impose eradication on private land. Your support is vital to our leadership and continued efforts.

Learn More About Our History of Prairie Dog Conservation

Prairie Dogs Bring Out the Worst and Best in Wildlife StewardshipPrairie Wings, 2018

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

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

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

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

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


Note: This article originally appeared as an AOK e-Newsletter. Sign up to stay informed and receive similar articles. To see the original e-News, click here.