Two prairie dog pups have appeared above ground at the Tiergarten Schonbrunn zoo in Vienna for the first time since their birth in mid-April.
“The young were born and growing up in an underground burrow,” said Stephan Hering-Hagenbeck, zoo director. “When they were born, they weighed around 15 grams (0.5 ounces) each. They were naked and blind.”
After they appeared on the surface, the two unnamed pups could be seen playing and scuffling.
Prairie dogs are herbivorous burrowing rodents native to the grasslands of North America and can be divided into five species: black-tailed, white-tailed, Gunnison’s, Utah and Mexican.
The two pups join others born this year, bringing the total to at least seven. Hering-Hagenbeck said counting them is almost impossible since they live underground.
“The animals, on the other hand, always keep track,” he said. “Black-tailed prairie dogs live in huge colonies in the wilderness. They sniff each other to know who is in the family. This ritual looks like a kiss.”
Baby prairie dogs are suckled for almost two months after they are born.
They feed on grasses, grains and carrots, which build fat reserves in winter. Due to low temperatures, they risk falling into a light hibernation-like sleep and staying in their burrows for a few days.
(Edited by Fern Siegel and Judith Isacoff)