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Extreme weather kills nearly every prairie dog at Henry Vilas Zoo

MADISON (WKOW) — Historic flooding and record cold are being blamed for killing almost every prairie dog at Henry Vilas Zoo.

According to Jess Thompson, the zoo’s Conservation Education Curator, after this fall’s heavy rain, the water in the ground rose ten feet higher than average.

In January, the polar vortex brought record-breaking cold conditions to southern Wisconsin. Despite extra efforts to isolate the exhibit, it wasn’t enough.

As the prairie dogs burrowed deeper underground to try and stay warm, they ran into the water, and likely froze to death.

Out of the nearly 20 animals, only one survived the winter.

Thompson says staff and visitors are devastated by the news. She also says the prairie dogs were a favorite for many.

The last prairie dog will join a new colony at a different zoo, which has yet to be announced.

In its place, they expanded the bison exhibit. Thompson says the staff will work to reconstruct the prairie dog area to make it better-equipped to handle extreme weather in the future, but does not have an estimate on how long it’ll take.

Courtney Terlecki

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