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Prairie Dog Feeding at the San Francisco Children’s Zoo

Updated on September 30, 2014
A prairie dog munches on a dandelion leaf.
A prairie dog munches on a dandelion leaf. | Source

In the usually cool foggy morning hours after the San Francisco Zoo opens at 9 a.m., the Prairie Dog community inside the Children's Zoo section surface to feast on their daily meal. Over a dozen Prairie Dogs stand, sit, or scamper around the dirt mounds to nibble on their favorite vegetables and green leaves.

Their daily (morning) meal consists of ample piles of carrot slices, dandelion leaves, eucalyptus leaves, foxtails, kale, hay and alfalfa, vegetation Prairie Dogs would normally find within their environmental surroundings. The zookeeper arranged the piles of vegetation around the entire Prairie Dog exhibit, mixing the different types of ingredients amongst and next to the underground tunnel entrances so that the Prairie Dogs did not have to run far for their breakfast.

Some Prairie Dogs preferred the dandelion leaves and would scurry from pile to pile hunting for them. Some are finicky eaters and would strip the leaves and leave the stalk before starting on another stalk. For today, foxtails, hay, and alfalfa were popular eating items while the kale and eucalyptus leaves were mostly ignored.

The carrot slices were particularly popular and one Prairie Dog made sure to nibble on as many as possible while another preferred the foxtails, eating the weed from top to bottom until all gone. The animals ate breakfast quietly, no squealing or jabbering conversations as they ate silently in solitude, concentrating on what was between their little paws. Only the sound of munching on fresh crunchy leaves or carrot slices could be heard.

The Prairie Dog exhibit is pretty secure from predators with live electric wires ringing the perimeter and a few overhead branches providing cover from soaring birds of prey. This allowed the animals to feast in relative security and peace. Even so, some Prairie Dogs were wary, pausing in their nibbling to look around and listen for any dangers. Sometimes a few Prairie Dogs would drop their meal to scamper to the nearest burrow for safety, but sensing that no threat existed, they stopped before entering the tunnel and then returned to the nearest pile of food to resume eating.

Even babies emerged from their burrows, following their parents lead to a pile of vegetation and selecting a plant to satisfy their hunger. The babies' smaller shape made them easier to differentiate from their larger plumper parents. Still a bit skittish and unconfident, the babies looked around more at their surroundings than the larger, more experienced adults. However, with so many Prairie Dogs outside eating, the babies felt safe amongst numbers.

A water dish rested at the center of the exhibit, but no Prairie Dog felt thirsty as all were busy eating their fill. With no one to bother them, this breakfast lasted for many minutes as each animal ate one plant after another.

The San Francisco Zoo opens daily and feeding times for the Prairie Dogs usually happens before 10:30 a.m. The Prairie Dogs' eating time however lasts much longer after the piles of food are laid in their exhibit and could last all morning and well into the afternoon.

The Prairie Dog exhibit is located near the entrance of the Children's Zoo within the San Francisco Zoo.

A group of prairie dogs enjoying their daily meal at the San Francisco Zoo.
A group of prairie dogs enjoying their daily meal at the San Francisco Zoo. | Source
A baby prairie dog keeps a close watch for overhead predators while eating a carrot slice.
A baby prairie dog keeps a close watch for overhead predators while eating a carrot slice. | Source

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