While people across the United States will watch Punxsutawney Phil to see whether his shadow will forecast six more weeks of winter, The Humane Society of the United States is calling attention to the groundhog's cousin - the prairie dog. After all, Feb. 2 is also known as Prairie Dog Day. To celebrate, here are five fun facts about this adorable western critter:
Not everyone appreciates prairie dogs' uniqueness and role in the fragile prairie. They're targeted by poisoning campaigns and their colonies are bulldozed over for housing developments. Shooting them for sport is a common practice. Add in natural threats-plague can wipe out entire colonies in days-and the five species of prairie dogs are under siege. Once spread over 12 western states and Mexico and Canada, today they occupy two to eight percent of their historic ranges, with populations down by 95 percent.
Enter the Prairie Dog Coalition, an HSUS-led group of wildlife biologists, advocates and nonprofits working on multiple fronts to give these once abundant animals a fighting chance at survival. The Prairie Dog Coalition fights for these threatened but critical animals through habitat protection work, relocation projects, conflict prevention and public outreach.