On Why We Shouldn’t Kill Prairie Dogs
I know Defenders of Wildlife have done some wonderful things for wildlife. I get e-mails from them about their campaigns, such as combatting the aerial gunning of wolves in Alaska, which is beyond barbaric. Today I received an e-mail about the continuing war humans have raged against the prairie dog, and Defenders wants to put a stop to it. Here’s my issue: Defenders doesn’t really want to protect prairie dogs, according to my e-mail, to protect prairie dogs. They want to protect them because of what they provide for other animals. They are useful.
- They provide food for eagles, hawks, badgers, swift fox, endangered black-footed ferrets and other Great Plains predators. And I’m not talking about cooking them dinner–they are dinner.
- Their burrows provide shelter for burrowing owls, salamanders, black-footed ferrets and other creatures.
- Sure, they mention that the "tunneling creatures . . . stand to suffer," but the main point is that "so many other creatures depend on prairie dogs for survival."
Over 70,000 prairie dogs were allowed to be killed in 2005 alone, and thousands since. And the Forest Service wants to make it easy to (legally) poison them again. I wonder, though, if prairie dogs weren’t so useful for other creatures–particularly endangered ones like the black-footed ferret, would Defenders care? Would anyone care? It appears that utility to our projects (like the reintroduction of the swift fox), in addition to utility to projects we hold dear (certain grasslands we want to protect) are what dictates which creatures are deserving of saving.
In a blog entry called A Dog Named Chester, ethologist Jonathan Balcombe, who is the author of PLEASURABLE KINGDOM, which I reviewed (it’s a favorite of mine) nearly a year ago, writes about meeting a six-year old prairie dog. The rodent, named Chester, was making the best of a life in captivity (he was rescued from being held illegally as a pet), and Balcombe describes his observations. What’s most interesting is that Balcombe sees Chester as an individual and gives you a sense of his personality. Defenders, on the other hand, while pleading for the lives of prairie dogs, gives me no way to connect to them. Prairie dogs carve out tunnels and are prey for other animals–that’s it. That makes me think that the people behind Defenders don’t grasp the individuality of the creatures they’re trying to save. The creatures are part of a system and the system needs them to continue effectively–that’s the message.
But the reality that they are each individuals with their own interest in not being someone’s dinner, and not being poisoned, is entirely absent.