Prairie dogs have declined by 98% throughout their range in the grasslands of North America. Translocations have been used as a conservation tool to reestablish colonies of this keystone species and to mitigate human-wildlife conflict. Understanding the behavioral responses of prairie dogs to translocation is of utmost importance to enhance the persistence of the species and for species that depend on them, including the critically endangered black-footed ferret. In 2017 and 2018, we translocated 658 black-tailed prairie dogs on the Lower Brule Indian Reservation in central South Dakota, USA, a black-footed ferret recovery site. Here, we describe and evaluate the effectiveness of translocating prairie dogs into augered burrows and soft-released within presumed coteries to reestablish colonies in previously occupied habitat. We released prairie dogs implanted with passive integrated transponders (PIT tags) and conducted recapture events approximately 1-month and 1-year post-release. We hypothesized that these methods would result in a successful translocation and that prairie dogs released as coteries would remain close to where they were released because of their highly social structure. In support of these methods leading to a successful translocation, 69% of marked individuals was captured 1-month post-release, and 39% was captured 1-year post-release. Furthermore, considerable recruitment was observed with 495 unmarked juveniles captured during the 1-year post-release trapping event, and the reestablished colony had more than doubled in the area by 2021. Contrary to our hypothesis, yet to our knowledge a novel finding, there was greater initial movement within the colony 1-month post-release than expected based on recapture locations compared with the published average territory size; however, 1 year after release, most recaptured individuals were captured within the expected territory size when compared to capture locations 1-month post-release. This research demonstrates that while translocating prairie dogs may be socially disruptive initially, it is an important conservation tool.
Keywords: Cynomys ludovicianus; black‐footed ferret; black‐tailed prairie dog; coterie; social behavior; translocation.
© 2023 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Conflict of interest statement
There are no competing interests.