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.

(10) comments

D. Stark

I hope there is some way to determine who set these traps and left the poor animals to die a slow death. Who would do this?

These creatures are remarkable in so many ways. A complex social order and a sophisticated means of communication. It is unconscionable. Who would be so heartless?

Still, the fact that the Mayor steps up at this moment reminds me of New York’s Mayor, De Blasio, who stated that he would stop the carriage horse business after several terrible deaths. De Blasio never followed through, but used the subject to bolster his appeal to voters. Alan Webber ought to have carried this torch well before now.

Khal Spencer

Rather heartless and cruel of people to let an animal die of exposure that way. Would be nice to catch and cite those responsible. By the way, did this have anything to do with the massive development down there that I see from the Chamisa Trail riding behind Santa Fe Place?

paul pacheco

A Mayor out of touch and out of tune with the real issues of the city!

Richard Irell

Most people can deal with multiple issues.

Khal Spencer

Animal cruelty is a real issue.

Jerry Black

We don't know who the traps belong to or who set them?? Really? Should be very easy to find out!

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Mark Ortiz

Your God took the time and care to create these wonderful animals, have some respect and I don't care about that BS in your book that says, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

Richard Reinders

The coyote and mountain lion are alive and well in Santa Fe, growth has not stopped them.

Dan Frazier

The article does not make clear where exactly the traps were located. Near Santa Fe Place Mall is vague at best. Who owns the property where the traps were found? Is it City property or private property?

Maria Bautista

Where the new building is happening, near arroyo.

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