Black-tailed prairie dogs once played a vital role in the vast grasslands ecosystem of the Great Plains of North America. The burrows of these little digging rodents aerated and watered the deep soil and provided a home to many other animals as well. Prairie dog feeding habits controlled invasive vegetation and opened the prairie to the plants preferred by buffalo and pronghorn antelope. The prairie dogs themselves were a food source for many other animals, among them hawks, rattlesnakes, badgers, coyotes, and black-footed ferrets.
In more than one hundred beautiful and charming color photographs, and with accompanying text, Russell Graves shows prairie dogs and their neighbors in their daily lives, eating, playing, and building--and keeping a constant lookout over their land. He tells the story of these highly gregarious rodents and gives a fascinating glimpse into their active, vocal society.
Graves also describes the present threatened state of the prairie dog and suggests ways prairie dogs and humans can coexist and even benefit each other. Prairie dogs once numbered in the billions, but today, after decades of poisoning and hunting, their numbers and habitat nationally have been reduced to only 2 percent of their extent at the end of the nineteenth century.
Government agencies, ranchers, farmers, and developers continue to eradicate prairie dogs in the competition for valuable land, but environmental and citizens' groups are beginning to realize what the loss of this little animal might mean to the plains and are coming to its aid in an attempt to preserve at least a small portion of the important ecosystem that hinges on it.
Russell Graves is a professional photographer in Childress, Texas, and agriculture science instructor with the Childress schools. His photographs have appeared in Texas Parks & Wildlife, Texas Highways, High Plains Outdoors, American Hunter, and many other publications.