The animal kingdom’s new supreme killer
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John Hoogland of the University of Maryland Center of Environmental Sciences states, “In my 43 years of research, this is perhaps the most provocative, puzzling, and far-reaching discovery I’ve ever made.” According to National Geographic, a species of animal is involved in a massacre of the survival of the fittest. Committing infanticide to kill off the competition for their own young, the species is ensuring that their young leads “longer, healthier lives”. The victims are found ruthlessly bitten and thrashed to death and then left to decay.
So who are the killers? The white-tailed prairie dog. Its victim? The Wyoming ground squirrel. Doctor Hoogland, along with his research students, studied prairie dog behavior for a period of nine years before they discovered this phenomenon. A prairie dog fanatic, Hoogland states, “For four months every year, we live like prairie dogs. We get to the colony early in the morning before the prairie dogs wake up, we sit in towers all day watching what they do, and we stay until the last prairie dog submerges, just around sunset.”
After finding a Wyoming ground squirrel’s body dumped in Western Colorado’s Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge, Hoogland was suspicious of the circumstances that would provoke such a savage murder. Further research revealed the skull of the corpse was cracked open to expose a brain gnawed at by its killer which Hoogland believes was the way the prairie dog ensured death.
Although infanticide is typical within species, such intentional killing of young animals had not been practiced by the white-tailed prairie dogs. It was observed that the most killings happened in May when the Wyoming ground squirrel’s young were out of the nest and active in public. Doctor Hoogland pinpointed 101 murders alongside 62 suspected cases. Research revealed 47 killers were both adult male and female prairie dogs. Researchers found that white-tailed prairie dogs are “killing for the sake of killing.” Out of the multitude of murderers, one prairie dog slaughtered several ground squirrels in one day. Another is notorious for the bloodshed of nine ground squirrels in a killing spree of four years, therefore earning the name “Killer Supreme.”
The Prairie Dog Coalition is an “alliance of nonprofit organizations, concerned citizens, and scientists dedicated to the protection of imperiled prairie dogs and restoration of their ecosystems.” But is the organization working to save prairie dogs only to allow the genocide of other species such as the Wyoming ground squirrel? And if prairie dogs are evolving from herbivores into blood thirsty murderers, what’s to say of the herbivores of our own society? Plant-based diets are taken up by individuals who appear to be peaceful, loving creatures much like the prairie dog. However, if the prairie dog had turned rogue to protect its young from danger, maybe it’s time we start being extra nice to our plant-based dieters and take their speeches about the consequences of animal agriculture seriously. National Geographic’s Michael Gresh writes, “It’s the first time that a herbivorous mammal has been seen killing competitors without eating them, suggesting that a plant-based diet doesn’t preclude mammals from having a taste for bloodsport.”