In the midst of American Independence Day, Belfast Zoo celebrated their own American success – the arrival of five black-tailed prairie dog pups.
In the wild, these highly social animals live in large colonies called ‘towns’ on North America’s prairies and open grasslands.
You can spot the areas where they live by the mounds of dirt that cover the tunnels they’ve dug.
Prairie dogs are intelligent too. The tunnels they dig are like houses – there are spaces designated for each purpose of life, such as areas for sleep and raising children.
When a female prairie dog is about to give birth, she goes to the nursery burrow.
The pups are born hairless and with their eyes closed. Their mother cares for them underground until they are about six weeks old, then is the exciting part as the pups venture above ground for the first time.
At the zoo Prairie dogs can often be heard giving off alarm calls, this is how they protect their young against predators.
Zoo manager, Mark Challis said: “Prairie dog burrows are considered to be quite destructive and for that reason some land-owners see them as pests. While they were once one of the most abundant mammals in North America they have since faced a dramatic decline in the population.
“Our ‘town’ of prairie dogs has experienced a swift increase lately as, in addition to the pups, we have recently welcomed ten males and ten females from Banham Zoo.
“Five pairs are currently being introduced to the current group and the remaining five pairs will be introduced shortly. The prairie dogs are always a favourite with visitors and I’m sure the pups will be just as popular.”