Colorado law enforcement agencies raided a home in Castle Rock on April 7, seizing 115 prairie dogs that have been at the center of a long-term dispute.
The animals were originally discovered at a construction site for a shopping mall that has generated controversy in the area. The creatures were trapped during March to relocate them to a ranch in New Mexico. Two women offered their garage as a temporary home for the animals, but the ranch that was supposed to receive the rodents decided not to accept them. No permit was filed with officials in Santa Fe, further complicating the move to The Land of Enchantment.
Wildlife officials have yet to determine the fate of the rodents, but suggested they could be fed to ferrets or euthanized.
"I've never heard of us taking (prairie dogs) out of the ground, them getting seized and then being exterminated. Once you take them back out, you don't put them back in," Trent Botkin, an independent contractor who helped to capture the rodents, said.
The Promenade at Castle Rock construction site is located near a large colony of prairie dogs. This has generated a great deal of controversy between environmentalists and supporters of the developers. Disagreement over the capture and seizure of the animals has become so intense that police report officers have been threatened over their actions. A Facebook page supporting the animals has received thousands of followers.
"If we don't work to protect this keystone species, we will see the prairie dogs, along with the many other species dependent on their survival, go extinct. Extinction is not an option for us, and our aim is to gather together and reverse the policies in place that are working against the survival of our wildlife and lands. We will defend and be the voices for the prairie dogs," Save the Castle Rock Prairie Dogs wrote on its website.
Following a contentious city council meeting, environmental activists allowed developers to trap the animals for transfer to New Mexico. However, that agreement was based on the animals being sent to a suitable property in New Mexico. The group was unable to find a home for the rodents in Colorado.
"We just care about the prairie dogs," Malia Reeves, one of the two women who were caring for the rodents prior to the seizure, told the press. As police loaded the animals into vehicles during the early morning raid, Reeves filmed the officers.
As of April 8, the prairie dogs are healthy and safe, being housed at a Colorado Parks and Wildlife facility.