A RIDICULOUS TAIL
Some animals are innately comical, and the prairie dog is high on the list. The Lubbock dogs are gray to reddish-brown, 12 to 15 inches long and weigh two to three pounds. The eyes are at the top of the head, like those of a frog, enabling the prairie dog to peek out of his hole to spot his enemies without exposing himself. The tail is downright ridiculous—only three inches long with a black tip. Another species with a white tail lives at higher altitudes.
Sitting on the wall of Prairie Dog Town, Clapp told me the history of Lubbock's highly successful rodent community.
"It took me seven years to learn how to keep 'em fenced," he said. "Their theme song appears to be, Don't Fence Me In."
Lubbock stands on the site of the greatest of all prairie dog towns, a vast rodent city which scientists estimated to contain 400 million prairie dogs at the turn of the century. But agriculture and prairie dogs were not compatible. The bug-eyed critters were gassed and poisoned to the point of extermination.
In 1938 a government man working with the Civilian Conservation Corps was looking for some poison with which to kill the last of the prairie dogs in that vicinity. Two holes had been discovered, and each hole contained two dogs.
"Why not let 'em be?" Clapp said. "In ten years they'll be a big attraction around here."
That was the beginning of Lubbock's modern Prairie Dog Town. It was also the beginning of a lot of headaches for Clapp.
"The little devils went down onto the golf course and started to work," Clapp said. "They dug two holes right on one of the greens. There was hell to pay. I knew I had to confine 'em, but I didn't realize how smart a prairie dog can be."
He wrote to various zoos seeking advice on how to localize prairie dogs.