Marshfield (OnFocus) – Once a bustling prairie dog coterie, there is suspected to be just one lone black-tailed prairie dog remaining at Wildwood Zoo.
“As many of you have noticed, we have experienced a drastic decrease in our prairie dog population over the last year,” states a note at the exhibit. “Our zoo staff has been closely monitoring the colony (with the help of cameras) and we have determined that we still have at least one individual utilizing the exhibit. Unfortunately, we believe he is the last remaining prairie dog.”
It is unclear what killed the prairie dog population at Wildwood, but Wildwood Zoo staff suspect disease, predation, or a genetic abnormality that affected a large portion of the population. Severe winter weather can also be a culprit, but doesn’t appear to be in this situation. At Vilas Zoo in Madison in 2019, all but one prairie dog didn’t survive the winter, with the last remaining prairie dog being transferred to a Baraboo Zoo.
According to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, In the 1930s, the sylvatic plague (the same bacterium that causes the bubonic plague in humans) was accidentally introduced to prairie dogs by fleas that arrived on ships from other parts of the world. Sylvatic plague typically kills prairie dogs, because they have little resistance to the disease.
Prairie dogs are considered to be a keystone species, benefiting approximately 170 other species. In the wild, prairie dogs are threatened by human intolerance, disease, climate change and habitat loss.
Wildwood Zoo will not be introducing more prairie dogs at this time. (5/2021 update: they are back!)
“While we would love to introduce more prairie dogs into the exhibit, a few considerations prevent us from doing so immediately,” the zoo’s statement said. “First, we would like to discover exactly why our population declined so rapidly so we can work to prevent this from occurring again.”
Wisconsin DNR also does not allow transportation of prairie dogs into the state, so replacing the population will be difficult.
“Keeping these two factors in mind, we are currently discussing the best plan moving forward for both our animals and the exhibit,” said the statement. “They have been favorites of the zoo for many years and will certainly be missed by both our staff members and guests alike!”
Wildwood Zoo is a free zoo and always in need of donated materials, as well as monetary donations toward big projects. To donate, visit this link.
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