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GUNNISON’S PRAIRIE DOG } Cynomys gunnisoni

RANGE: Four Corners area of the Colorado Plateau where Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah meet

STATUS: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that populations of the Gunnison’s prairie dog located in central and south-central Colorado and north-central New Mexico are warranted for protection under the Endangered Species Act; however, this species has not yet been listed.

THREATS: Shooting and poisoning by humans, oil and gas development, and disease

Gunnison’s prairie dog towns are abuzz with prairie dog conversations. And it’s not idle chatter by any means: Prairie dogs use an astonishingly elaborate language to communicate with one another. Scientists believe these little mammals use different warning calls to distinguish between different types of predators, such as badgers, coyotes, weasels, and raptors, and can even broadcast the color of an approaching person’s clothes to their neighbors. These highly social rodents are a keystone species of the sagebrush ecosystem they inhabit, but their numbers have plummeted in the last century due to persecution by humans.

Photo © Robin Silver