Can we bring back the prairie dog to El Paso?

Black-tailed prairie dog by Josh More

Unfortunately prairie dogs in North America have declined by 95%. Two species, the Mexican prairie dog and the Utah prairie dog are endangered, yet prairie dogs are still being poisoned and colonies destroyed. Sometime within the past 50 years they were eradicated from El Paso County. Is there anyway we can change that and bring them back? Perhaps, over the past few months I have talked to a number of people in El Paso who are interested in helping to make that happen.  

Today there are some small black-tailed prairie dog towns near the outskirts of the county in parts of West Texas and Southern New Mexico. According to recent reports on iNaturalist prairie dogs may still survive on private lands near Cornudas, Texas along the highway to Carlsbad Caverns.   About five years ago I was able to document prairie dogs surviving in very small numbers on Otero Mesa in New Mexico about twenty miles north of Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site.  There are also other areas in West Texas where they are found on private ranches including an area protected by the Nature Conservancy north of Marathon, Texas.  Unfortunately it is very difficult to find prairie dogs near El Paso so any effort to help bring them back would be a big plus for our community and could help boost ecotourism. 

There was a time when you could see prairie dogs within the city limits of El Paso.  Now that most of the area has been developed are there any places with good habitat where they could be reintroduced?    To help answer that question I am in touch with several researchers who have conducted studies on prairie dog restoration efforts at the Borderlands Research Institute at Sul Ross State University in Alpine. El Paso’s Urban Biologist working for Texas Parks and Wildlife is also interested in helping as well are others who are involved in habitat restoration and conservation efforts in our area. 

The current vision for the project is to identify an area of at least 15 acres with potential prairie dog habitat and then to seek funding to relocate prairie dogs from other areas of Texas.    If we are successful we will be able to help bring back an important part of our natural heritage while enhancing our quality of life and El Paso’s natural biodiversity. 

If you would like to help feel free to contact me using our contact form.

Rick LoBello
Education Curator
El Paso Zoo

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