Best Zoo Animal - 2012
Black-tailed prairie dog
The folks at the Saint Louis Zoo take great pains to mimic the natural habitat of all the creatures under their stewardship, but few of the park's residents seem to do what they would be doing in the wild anyway with the gusto exhibited by the black-tailed prairie dog. Cohabitating in a band about two dozen strong, they chatter, play, forage and tumble in and out of their tunnel town as if they don't give a hoot that they're being watched. Except they do care! A study by a Washington University grad student found that when larger crowds of zoogoers gather at the prairie-dog enclosure, the adults kiss and cuddle more, and the babies are more likely to start wrestling. Let that sink in. That's cuteness on demand. It's also insane. And so we propose a toast to the humble prairie dog: May her cheeks be always filled with little berries and nuts.