South Dakota without prairie dogs? Yes, it’s hard to believe.
For now, the decline in prairie dog population is due to sylvatic plague, which is a bacterial disease in rodents. The Capitol Journal says the disease is spread by fleas, and can effect humans.
Prairie dogs are particularly sensitive to the plague and are usually the first to get it.
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This disease has been known to kill off entire colonies of prairie dogs, which is devastating in another way. Prairie dogs are the primary food source for black-footed ferrets, which are already an endangered species.
Vaccinations have been created for humans to prevent us from infection, and it has been known to work on animals in a lab, but it is not practical to attempt to vaccinate thousands of wild animals.
It adds up to vaccinating black-footed ferrets and dusting all prairie dog habitats with insecticide yearly, making the effort a very expensive one.
Scientists are not so much worried about the prairie dogs; they have a high reproductive rate and are likely to bounce back well. However, the black-footed ferret might run into problems down the line with less food.
Hunters in particular are advised to be cautious. Handling a prairie dog with sylvatic plague could end up infecting the handler.
The USGS says to be on the lookout for dead prairie dogs, especially those with blood oozing from their mouths or noses. When going out to hunt or handle animals, wear gloves to as to protect from possible infection.
Do you hunt prairie dogs in or near South Dakota?