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Talking Prairie Dogs in Santa Fe
Friday, October 8, 2010
Talking Prairie Dogs in Santa Fe
Prairie Dog Expert Presents Research on Animal Language
Contact: Dr. Nicole Rosmarino (505) 699-7404
Santa Fe, NM—Oct 8. Long-time prairie dog researcher Dr. Con Slobodchikoff will hold a public presentation detailing his findings on prairie dog language and discussing his new book, “Prairie Dogs: Communication and Community in an Animal Society.” The reading, powerpoint presentation, and fundraiser will benefit WildEarth Guardians, Prairie Dog Advocacy Watch Group (PDAWG), and People for Native Ecosystems. All three groups work to protect prairie dogs, in Santa Fe and elsewhere.
When: Sunday, October 10th 5:00-6:30 pm
Where: Inn and Spa at Loretto ?211 Old Santa Fe Trail in?Santa Fe
In his book, Dr. Slobodchikoff presents his landmark research on prairie dog communications and also makes a plea to preserve prairie dogs and the ecosystems they sustain. Dr. Slobodchikoff has studied prairie dog communication for 25 years. The book’s co-authors are Bianca S. Perla and Jennifer L. Verdolin.
“Prairie dogs have the most sophisticated animal language that has ever been found, even more complicated than that of monkeys, whales and dolphins. Yet we seem to be on a fast track to eliminate these animals, even though they have so much to teach us about how animals use language,” stated Dr. Con Slobodchikoff.
The presentation follows on the heels of efforts by the three groups to save one of the last remaining prairie dog colonies in Santa Fe, located on West Alameda Street. The emergency effort to relocate the prairie dogs out of harm’s way underscores the need for a plan to provide protected areas for prairie dogs within city limits. The city is now undertaking efforts to write such a plan.
“Prairie dogs are symbolic of Santa Fe’s diverse natural heritage. It will be a shame to lose such a cultural icon, and our city will be that much sadder and lonelier without the sights and sounds of its prairie dogs. However, despite our efforts to preserve various prairie dogs colonies within the city, most recently the vibrant population at the river park along West Alameda, each year we lose more and more prairie dogs due to the short-sightedness of city planners. That is why we have requested that the city adopt a comprehensive urban wildlife conservation and management strategy before we lose any more prairie dogs to development,” stated Denise Saccone, of PDAWG.
Another recent development is WildEarth Guardians’ victory in a multi-year legal battle to safeguard Gunnison’s prairie dogs under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). A federal court judge in Arizona decided in late September that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated the ESA when it only recognized the Gunnison’s prairie dog as endangered in the mountainous and not prairie portions (including Santa Fe and Albuquerque) of its range. The decision provides Santa Fe’s prairie dogs with another chance at federal ESA shields. Dr. Slobodchikoff supports the effort to obtain federal protection for this species.
The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that Gunnison’s prairie dogs have declined by 98 percent, from 24 million acres in 1916 to 500,000 or fewer acres in 2008. The decrease is due to an array of threats, including mass extermination efforts orchestrated on behalf of the livestock industry; sylvatic plague, an exotic disease to which prairie dogs have little or no immunity; rampant oil and gas drilling; shooting; poisoning; urban sprawl; and other perils. Prairie dogs in Santa Fe are being eliminated at an alarming rate, due to both private development and city management practices.
“We hope that people gain from Dr. Slobodchikoff’s presentation a reflection on both the fascinating language of prairie dogs as well as the need to bring this species back from the brink,” said John Horning of WildEarth Guardians. “Federal ESA safeguards would provide the Gunnison’s prairie dog with insurance against extinction.”
Scientists consider prairie dogs to be “keystone” species. Prairie dogs serve as prey for a large variety of carnivores including golden eagles, kit foxes, ferruginous hawks, and badgers. Prairie dog burrows provide homes to animals such as burrowing owls, lizards, rabbits, and other wildlife. From big mammals to small butterflies, more than 150 wildlife species benefit from the rich habitat prairie dog colonies create.
“We humans need to become more connected with our natural environment and learn to appreciate all of the wonders it offers. It is tragic that prairie dogs, a keystone species in our grasslands ecosystem and whose population once numbered in the billions, are now at risk over their entire range as a result of human encroachment,” said David Van Hulsteyn of People for Native Ecosystems. “Professor Slobodchikoff and the organizations sponsoring his book signing are pleased to offer Santa Feans this opportunity to begin the process of celebrating biological diversity.”
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