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The Story Of Wild Animals:
 Story Of The Prairie Dog

 Story Of The Wild Boar

 Story Of The Porcupine

 Story Of The Hippopotamus

 Story Of The Jackal

 Story Of The Tapir

 Story Of The Monkey

 Ugly Baboon

 Intelligent Chimpanzee


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Story Of The Prairie Dog

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

“Yip yip.”

As I heard this sound I turned my head and saw hundreds of small legs and whisking little tails disappearing in burrows. I was on the edge of a prairie dog town. The chief dog, or the "big dog," as he is called, which governs every prairie dog town, had seen me. Instantly he gave the signal of alarm and all the inhabitants of the place dived into their burrows.

I concealed myself behind a clump of brush and waited patiently. Pretty soon a little head appeared at the entrance of one of the burrows and took a quick survey of the surroundings. Having satisfied itself that all danger was past, the little animal gave a shrill whistle and one by one the prairie dogs came from their holes in the ground and seated themselves upon their hind legs on the little mounds of earth in front of their burrows. Lying flat on the ground I took deliberate aim at one of the dogs and fired. A little cloud of dust was raised as the dogs skurried into their homes.

Nothing is more difficult than to get possession of the body of a prairie dog after it has been shot, although the wound may be mortal. Even when a bullet is put straight through their heads they are more likely to tumble into their burrows than to fall outside of them.

My shot went true. The bullet pierced the head of the little animal and it fell dead on the little mound of earth in front of its dwelling. Just as I was about to rise and secure its body one of its companions that had scampered into its burrow at the sound of the rifle now reappeared, and seemingly reckless of all danger, seized the dead body and dragged it into the hole. Such an instance of intelligence and devotion touched me deeply, and from that day to this I have never shot a prairie dog.

The prairie dog, as it is popularly called, is found in plenty along the course of the Missouri river, and throughout the great section of country known as the American Southwest and its tributaries. It congregates in vast numbers, in certain spots where the soil is favorable to its subterranean habits of life and the vegetation is sufficiently luxuriant to afford it nourishment. The color of this animal is a reddish-brown upon the back, mixed with gray and black in a rather vague manner. The length of the animal rather exceeds sixteen inches, the tail being a little more than three inches long. The cheek pouches are about three-quarters of an inch in depth, and are half that measurement in diameter.

The prairie dog is a burrowing animal, and the spot on which it congregates is literally honeycombed with its tunnels. There is, however, a kind of order observed in the "dog-towns," as these warrens are popularly called, for the animals always leave certain roads or streets in which no burrow is made. The affairs of the community seem to be regulated by a single leader, called the big dog, who, sits before the entrance of his burrow, and issues his orders from thence to the community. In front of every burrow a small heap of earth is raised, which is made from the excavated soil, and which is generally employed as a seat for the occupant of the burrow.

As long as no danger is apprehended the little animals are all in lively motion, sitting upon their mounds, or hurrying from one tunnel to another, as eagerly ,as if they were transacting the most important business. Suddenly a sharp yelp is heard, and the peaceful scene is in a moment transformed into a whirl of indistinguishable confusion. Quick barks resound on every side, the air is filled with a dust-cloud, in the midst of which is indistinctly seen an intermingled maze of flourishing legs and whisking tails, and in a moment the populous "town" is deserted. Not a dog is visible, and the whole spot is apparently untenanted. But in a few minutes a pair of dark eyes are seen gleaming at the entrance of some burrow, a set of glistening teeth next shine through the dusky recess, and in a few minutes first one, and then another prairie dog issues from its retreat, until the whole community is again in lively action.

The title of prairie dog has been given on account of its sharp, yelping sound, which has some resemblance to the barking of a peevish lapdog. This peculiar sound is evidently employed as a cry of alarm; for, as soon as it is uttered, all the prairie dogs dive into, their burrows, and do not emerge again until they hear the shrill whistle which tells them that the danger is past. Being so wary an animal, it is with difficulty approached or shot ; even when severely wounded it is not readily secured, owing to its wonderful tenacity of life. A bullet that would instantly drop a deer has, comparatively, no immediate effect upon the prairie dog, which is capable of reaching its burrow, even though mortally wounded in such a manner as would cause the instantaneous death of many a larger animal. A tolerably large bullet through the brain seems to be the only certain method of preventing a prairie dog from regaining its stronghold. The mode by which this animal enters the burrow is very comical. It does not creep or run into the entrance, but makes a jump in the air, turning a partial somersault, flourishing its hind-legs and whisking its tail in the most ludicrous manner, and disappearing as if by the magic of a conjurer.

The burrows of the prairie dog are generally made at an angle of forty degrees, and after being sunk for some little distance run horizontally. It is well known that these burrows are not only inhabited by the legitimate owners and excavators, but are shared by the burrowing owl and the rattlesnake. According to popular belief, the three creatures live very harmoniously together; but careful observations have shown that the snake and the owl are interlopers, living in the burrows because the poor owners cannot turn them out of their hiding-places, and finding an easy subsistence on the young prairie dogs.

In Europe and Asia the prairie dog is known by its zoological name, the marmot. The best known are the Alpine marmot, inhabiting the Pyrenees, Alps and Carpathian Mountains, and the bobac marmot, found on the frontier of Germany and ranging eastwards through Galicia and Poland, across the steppes of Southern Russia, and so on to Amurland, Kamschatka, and Siberia; the climate of these regions being cold enough to admit of the existence of marmots at low elevations. In Lapland and Scandinavia, marmots are quite unknown.

In Asia one of the best known is the short-tailed Himalayan marmot, which is nearly allied to the bobac, but of somewhat larger size. Its range extends from the mountains of Yarkand and other parts of Turkestan to Ladak and Eastern Thibet, where it is usually found at elevations of from twelve thousand to thirteen thousand feet. The largest and handsomest

of the Old World group is, however, the long-tailed red marmot, in which the length of the head and body is about twenty-four inches, and that of the tail fully half as much. The Alpine marmot is twenty inches, and the bobac fifteen. The Himalayan marmot may be met with on the mountain-

ranges to the north of the valley of Kashmir, and thence to Gilgit in one direction, and parts of Ladak in the other, while it is also said to extend far into Central Asia. Other kindred but smaller species are the Cabul marmot from Northern Afghanistan, and the golden marmot from the mountains to the west of Yarkand.

The districts inhabited by all the marmots of the Old World are desolate and barren; being in most cases scorched with fierce heat in summer, while in winter they are subject to intense cold. In the Himalaya, these animals are not met with until the traveler has crossed the wooded outer ranges, and entered the bleak Thibetan districts.

The habits of all the marmots of the Old World are very similar; all of these animals living in large companies, and excavating burrows in which they pass the whole of the winter buried in slumber. Indeed, marmots seem to be the most thoroughly hibernating of all animals, since their sleep is apparently unbroken, and they lay up no store of winter food. Their food is purely of a vegetable nature, consisting mainly of roots, leaves, and seeds of various plants. In the Himalaya the burrows are very generally constructed beneath the shelter of a plant of wild rhubarb; and the tenants on a fine clay take up their station on the mound at the entrance, or journey for a short distance in search of food. At the least alarm, they rush at once to the entrance of their burrow, when they sit up on their hind-quarters to survey the scene and detect the danger. If the enemy approach too close, the loud whistling scream is tittered, and the animal dives headlong into its burrow, to reappear after a time and see if the coast is clear. Both in the Alps and Himalaya marmot-warrens are situated in exposed situations, generally where there is a considerable open space, and which in winter are deeply buried in snow. In the case of the Alpine species, the winter-quarters are made in large burrows, each with a single entrance, and terminating in an extensive chamber lined with grass; such chambers frequently containing as many as from ten to fifteen occupants during the winter, all lying closely packed together.

The flesh of marmots is of good flavor, and is largely consumed by the inhabitants of the Siberian steppes, who as soon as the bobac reappears in spring, after its winter sleep, organize a regular system of hunting. In shooting marmots it is essential that they should be killed at the first shot, as the sportsman is only able to come within range when they are sitting at the mouths of their burrows, and if only wounded, no matter how severely, they are well-nigh sure to have sufficient power left to struggle down. Marmots in the Himalaya will generally reappear after being fired at once, but after a second fright they are seldom seen again on that day.

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