Five American visitors cause stir as Belfast Zoo welcomes prairie dog pups
Belfast Zoo has welcomed a brood of five prairie dog pups - just in time to celebrate the birth of their country of origin.
As the United States celebrated Independence Day, Belfast Zoo celebrated by welcoming five black-tailed prairie dog pups to add to its exotic population.
They will join the 10 male and 10 female prairie dogs that recently came to Belfast from Banham Zoo.
Regarded as rodents, in the wild these animals live on North America's prairies and open grasslands.
The easiest way to spot them is by looking for their distinctive mounds of dirt, which cover a series of tunnels they dig. These tunnels are sectioned off for different purposes, including sleeping quarters and nurseries.
When the female prairie dog is ready to give birth she goes to the nursery burrow. The pups are born hairless and with their eyes closed and she cares for them underground until they are about six weeks old. They then venture above ground.
Prairie dogs are highly social animals and live in large colonies, known as 'towns'. They work together to protect their young against predators.
Belfast Zoo manager Mark Challis said prairie dogs were among the most popular residents.
"Prairie dog burrows are considered to be quite destructive and for that reason some landowners see them as pests," he said. "While they were once one of the most abundant mammals in North America they have since faced a dramatic decline in the population."
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