ZooAmerica in Hershey, Pennsylvania is now home to 11 baby Black-tailed Prairie Dogs. The babies round out the Zoo’s Prairie Dog colony to a total of 20. These playful and sometimes vocal rodents were first spotted at the beginning of May and continue to be an entertaining highlight for visitors to the Big Sky Country region of the Zoo. A member of the squirrel family, as adults they will grow to weigh between 1-3 pounds and 13-17 inches in length from nose to tail. Their lifespan in the wild is from 3-5 years ,but can be up to 8 years in captivity.
In the wild these rodents live on North America's prairies and open grasslands in only a fraction of their former numbers, in underground burrows. They make a series of tunnels, sectioned off for different purposes - sleeping quarters, nurseries and a latrine! Family groups, called coteries, share these burroww, their food, groom each other and supply protection from predators such as snakes, foxes and burrowing owls.
Much of the Great Plains has been converted to farmland or pastures where Prairie Dogs are not welcome. Because their landscaping is considered destructive, they are often considered to be pests and killed. Where at one time they were arguably the most abundant mannal in North AMerica, about 98% of all Prairie Dogs were exterminated, while their range has shrunken to about 5 %.
The Prairie Dogs are being bred at ZooAmerica to act as ambassadors for their species to teach and educate the public about their role in nature and why it is important to conserve and protect the places they are found.