The discovery of several prairie dogs found dead in traps set near Santa Fe Place mall has provoked an outcry from city officials and animal advocates who called the practice cruel and disturbing.
The cage traps were designed to capture the animals rather than kill them. But whoever set the traps didn’t check them, resulting in what one advocate described as a slow, painful death for the prairie dogs.
The prairie dogs, which thrive in underground colonies, have a low tolerance to direct sunlight, so being stuck in a cage with no water in August would be fatal, said Jessica Johnson, chief government affairs officer for Animal Protection New Mexico.
“That seems like a very inhumane end for an animal,” Johnson said.
Mayor Alan Webber also condemned the killing of the prairie dogs.
“Santa Fe is a city where we value and protect all of our animals, from dogs to prairie dogs,” he said in a statement. “Recently, however, we’ve witnessed some disturbing attacks on our prairie dog villages. Valuing and protecting animals is part of Santa Fe; hurting prairie dogs harms us all.”
The city remains committed to prairie dog protection, Webber added.
Neither city officials nor Johnson know who laid the traps.
Lethal trapping is illegal on city-owned property, Johnson said. If it’s done on private property, it can violate animal cruelty laws if the animal was made to needlessly suffer.
Those who feel compelled to catch prairie dogs should not let them languish in a trap but call animal rescue groups that will help relocate them to suitable habitat, Johnson said.
People for Native Ecosystems and Prairie Dog Pals are two such groups, she said.
Prairie dogs are at home in open grasslands, where they can dig colonies, she said. But it’s best to let the experts move them because it can get tricky, she said.
For instance, if there’s adjacent private land where the animals might burrow, the owners’ permission is required, she said.
And given the diminishing habitat, people also should consider coexisting with prairie dogs, she said.
“We would encourage some opportunity to learn about the benefits of prairie dogs,” Johnson said. “They are so important to our ecosystem. They are so important to the way water moves around in our cities and our state. Their burrowing system — they’re really important for erosion control and runoff prevention.”
Yet prairie dogs, along with beavers, coyotes and cougars, historically have been driven out and nearly made extinct as communities grow and overlap with habitat areas, Animal Protection New Mexico said in a statement.
Some people consider prairie dogs a nuisance, although in Santa Fe this segment is likely to be a minority, Johnson said.
“Prairie dogs are cherished by many Santa Feans,” she said.