The news report, which can be read in its original glory HERE reads:
A couple from Cornwall have photographed a prairie dog while they were on a moor in Cornwall.
Linda and Godfrey Stevens were on the Goss Moor trail when they spotted a small furry creature that they could not recognise.
Godfrey Stevens said: "We didn't expect to see anything like that." Newquay Zoo confirmed the picture was that of a prairie dog. They are mammals from the squirrel family and are from the grasslands of North America. Mr Stevens said: "We expected to see wild flowers. It was a real surprise for us." John Meeks from Newquay Zoo said it was a black-tailed prairie dog "without a doubt".
Well, yes. It is indeed a black tailed prairie dog without a doubt. Unlike previous incumbents, the current management of Newquay Zoo are not inclined to making idiotic quasi-cryptozoological statements in the press. But the important thing is how did it get there? Prairie dogs are North American ground squirrels that live in large social groups on the grasslands of North America. And it is the 'large social groups' that is the important feature here.
Black tailed prairie dogs are highly inappropriate pets for this reason, but also for a logistical one; they are great burrowers and will dig long tunnels. Therefore, unless one is very careful, the chances of escapes are very high indeed. There is also a third reason why they are not widely kept as pets. Look at this pricelist, pinched today, from the website of a highly regarded specialist animal dealer:
Arabian Spiny Mouse Acomys cahirinus dimidiatus £ 10.00
Egyptian Spiny Mouse Acomys cahirinus cahirinus £ 10.00
Harvest Mouse Micromys minutus £ 25.00
Striped Grass Mouse Lemniscomys barbarus £ 10.00
Multimammate Mouse Mastomys natalensis £ 5.00
African Pygmy Mouse Mus minutoides £ 15.00
African Dwarf Dormouse Graphiurus murinus £ 25.00
Duprasi (fat tailed gerbil) Pachyuromys duprasi £ 15.00
Pallid Gerbil Gerbillus perpallidus £ 10.00
Shaws Jird Meriones shawi £ 15.00
Bushy Tailed Jird Sekeetamys £ 25.00
Acacia Rats Thallomys paedulucus £ 10.00
Nile Rats Arvicanthis niloticus £ 10.00
Hand Reared Gambian Pouched Rats Cricetomys gambianus - Males £ 250.00
Cricetomys gambianus - Females £ 300.00
Richardson Ground Squirrel Spermophilus richardsonii £ 100.00
13 Lined Ground Squirrel Spermophilus tridecemlineatus £ 100.00
Black Tailed Prarie Dog Cynomys ludovicianus £ 100.00
African Pygmy Hedgehogs Atelerix albiventris £ 150.00 from
Long Eared Hedgehogs Hemiechinus auritus auritus £ 150.00 from
Sugar Gliders Petaurus breviceps £ 150.00
Steppe Lemmings Lagurus largurus £ 20.00
Mediterranean Lemmings Microtus guentheri £ 15.00
Lesser Jerboa Jaculus jaculus £ 75.00
Greater Jerboa Jaculus orientalis £ 100.00
All the ground squirrels, including prairie dogs, are expensive at a hundred quid a pop, and the fact we have now received three reports from the same geographical area between Feb 2008 and this morning, would suggest that either there is someone in the area with more money than sense who keeps on buying these charming little rodents only to let them escape, or there is a well-established colony of these rather charming little fellows in captivity somewhere in mid-Cornwall, and that the escape record of this afore-mentioned colony is somewhat akin to Hogan's Heroes.
I think that an intensive search of the area with small mammal traps is probably in order, and that that those in charge of the British list should really come to terms with the fact that we have a new invasive species on our hands.