Site preparation covers all aspects of creating an artificial environment for the prairie dogs once they have been released to their new home in the wild.
Besides our volunteers, the most precious commodity in the relocation process is relocation habitat. Very few people or groups are willing to provide land for the reintroduction of prairie dogs. Additionally the site must meet rigorous criteria to ensure that it is suitable for the introduction of prairie dogs. The site is evaluated based on vegetation, soil type, terrain, and biological appropriateness in terms of existing species and the whether or not it is traditional habitat for the prairie dogs being relocated.
Very few sites are ideal. We have had some success with the city of Albuquerque open space, tribal land, and private landowners. We are partnering with educational institutes and wildlife refuges for future relocations. Our vision is to secure sufficient habitat to accommodate all prairie dogs threatened with habitat loss, state wide.
Notes: With the city we use a bobcat with the following attachments: 24” auger, a 12” backhoe/bucket and a blade. The holes get augured first, then the “ramps” are cut, then the nesting box is set, and then the hole is backfilled using the blade. Shovel work is required to dress up the area. Alternatively you can use a backhoe for the whole operation. We try to minimize the damage to the grass by minimizing passes and traffic.
Artificial burrows provide a temporary home for the prairie dogs during the relocation process.
The nesting boxes, or artificial burrows, are constructed of 15-25 gallon nursery pots. The bigger the pot, the more prairie dogs it will accommodate (keeping family groups in mind). You can usually get these donated. However, you want the rigid ones that are injection molded, and not the flimsy ones that are blow molded. The flimsy ones can crush during the back filling. To find out how to make one, click here.
The nesting boxes must have 2, 4” holes drilled into them with the hole cutter, one in the middle of the bottom, and 1 on the side, about 2” down from the top. The holes must be slotted (8 slots about 1” deep) using the mini grinder and cutting wheel. The slots allow the tube to be forced into the pot and held securely.
A piece of 1/2”x1/2” hardware cloth needs to be cut to fit over the open end of the nesting box. The rim of the pot is either drilled with a number of holes so that the cloth can be sewn to the pot using wire or the cloth can be stapled to the pot. If it is stapled to the pot, care must be taken when handling and setting the pot so that the hardware cloth is not pulled away from the pot.
Relocation is the culmination of all the efforts that have taken place thus far, the prairie dogs are going to their new homes! The initial steps are the reverse of the staging process. The prairie dogs are checked one last time then placed in kennels for movement to the relocation site.
The prairie dogs are moved from the holding tanks and cages to the kennels.
At the relocation site time and temperature are always a factor. Every effort is made to keep the prairie dogs from over heating.
The cage caps are stuffed with hay. The hay serves as both food and bedding for the prairie dogs. Food dishes are placed in each cage cap.
When all is ready the prairie dogs are moved from the kennels or cages and placed into the tubes leading to the nesting box.
The cage caps are set and staked in place. The hay and food are replenished for up to 5 days after which the prairie dogs are allowed to “escape.” Here you can see the prairie dogs in the cage caps. They can acclimate to their environment while being protected from predators.
Ideally, the prairie dogs will start digging their own natural burrows nearby as can be seen above. Eventually the prairie dogs will move further a field establishing new coteries.
Once the prairie dogs have established their permanent residences we will reutilize the artificial burrows. We use a camera to inspect the artificial burrows, and if unoccupied, reuse them for other relocations from the same colony.
Poisoning or simply bulldozing prairie dogs alive in their burrows has been the common approach to dealing with unwanted colonies. Properly conducted prairie dog relocation is humane and restores the ecosystem at the release site. There are only two humane methods of capture:
- Properly conducted flushing with soapy water
- Continuously monitored live traps
• A mild dishwashing liquid is mixed into a water tank and hosed into prairie dog burrows.
• The soap bubbles fill the burrow making the prairie dogs want to exit the burrow.
• A second person uses their bare hands to catch the dogs as they exit the burrow. The prairie dog is then dried with a towel.
• Saline eye drops are applied to the eyes to clear away the soap and any dirt.
• The prairie dogs are placed into pet carriers filled with grass hay and flea dusted.
Prairie Dog Relocation Process with Live Trapping:
• Live cage traps are placed at each active burrow, baited, and continuously monitored. When captured, prairie dogs will be immediately flea dusted. They are removed from exposure to the elements and placed into pet carriers filled with grass hay.
• A separate carrier is used for each coterie so families are kept together and released together.
• Three to four people are needed to do this work for most sites; volunteers are needed.
• The crew uses food coloring on the fur to identify family groups and to make sure prairie dogs that emerge together are released together.
• The release site is prepared by trenching for artificial burrows. Artificial burrows are underground nesting boxes with tubing attached to the ground’s surface, which serves as a rudimentary burrow system.
• The prairie dogs are flea dusted and placed by hand into artificial burrows. Each burrow contains a family group.
• After each group is placed into their artificial burrow, an above ground cage cap is attached to the tubing to contain the animals. Plenty of favorite foods are placed into the cage.
• The prairie dogs remain in these structures for up to one week. Daily feeding is conducted.
• When the time is appropriate, the cages are removed from the artificial burrows. A minimal two days of intensive monitoring is required to insure the prairie dogs commit to digging home burrows within the accepted release area.
• Predator monitoring and non-lethal discouragement may be conducted, such as installing fencing around the release area.
• Regular monitoring and daily feeding are conducted at the onset.
• Maintenance efforts may include regular flea dusting around burrows, and supplemental feeding during drought conditions.
Architecture of an Artificial Burrow
The picture to the left illustrates one example of an artificial burrow. PDP uses a slightly different design. We use a 25-gallon, plastic nursery pot for what we call the nesting box (described in the illustration as the “initial burrow chamber or room”). We attach a ten-foot long tube to the side of the upside-down nursery pot for an entrance/exit tunnel, as shown. Our second tube, unlike the one in the picture, we install through the top of the nursery pot, extending down into it so that the end of the tube sits a few inches above the base. We dig a hole in the ground roughly four feet deep, lay a piece of hardware cloth in the bottom, and then set on that the upside-down nursery pot with attached tubes. The hardware cloth prevents the prairie dogs from digging out of the nesting box, while the tubes allow them to climb to the surface. When we release the prairie dogs, we usually send them down the vertical tube; gravity encourages them to proceed to the bottom rather that stopping in the tube and causing a traffic-jam.
After inserting the prairie dogs into the artificial burrows, we place a containment cage (we call them cage caps) over each egress tube. We continue to feed and monitor the prairie dogs for up to five days. This gives them a chance to acclimate to their new surroundings. Then we remove the cage caps and allow them to “escape” from the artificial burrows. Able to come and go as they please, they continue to use the man-made burrows as a refuge from predators and for temporary shelter until they can construct their own burrows.