The same New Mexico gun shop that drew international outrage for sponsoring a coyote killing contest last year is back at it again, only this time the intended targets are prairie dogs.
Gunhawk Firearms in Los Lunas will be holding the contest from August 10-17. Under the rules, “hunters” will pay a $25 entry fee, and whoever kills the “most tails” will win a Wesson M&P 15-22 rifle. The store is also giving participants t-shirts that say: “You’re killing me smalls.”
Despite outrage, the store’s owner and employees are standing by the contest and claiming that, once again, it’s about supporting hunting rights and that, in this instance, prairie dogs cause problems for farmers and ranchers.
“With the coyote hunt, it was taking up the hunting rights issue,” Josh Waters, Gunhawk Firearms sales manager told KQRE. “After the coyote hunt, we got a lot of thanks for it. We got a lot of outpouring of support, and we want to show we are going to do it again. We’re going to be there for our hunters consistently.”
However, some animal advocates believe it’s just a publicity stunt and that claiming prairie dogs are pests is just an excuse to kill wildlife. They also point out that these sadistic and distasteful events that glorify killing are giving New Mexico a bad name. There’s a difference between population control, which is still questionable in some cases, and an all out bloodbath for fun and entertainment.
Again, these alleged hunters are also overlooking the inherent value of the wild animals they’re so bent on killing. Living in colonies known as “towns,” prairie dogs are considered a keystone species who are vital to the health of prairie ecosystems. It’s believed that more than 150 other species benefit from the existence of prairie dogs. Losing them means losing other species who rely on them, like the burrowing owl who nests in prairie dog burrows.
They also have a complex social structure and language that Dr. Con Slobodchikoff, who studies prairie dogs, believes is the most complex that’s been decoded so far.
Even though they’ve already lost more than 90 percent of their native habitat, they continue to be killed and poisoned as a pest. Now, despite their importance, they’re at the center of a contest that suggests their only value is to be used for target practice, entertainment and profit.
“In one week of shooting you may wipe out more animals than years of volunteer effort could save leaving committed, caring people disillusioned and heartbroken in the face of a murderous spectacle,” wrote Lynne Hough, president of People for Native Ecosystems in a letter asking the shop to stop the contest.
The group proposed a meeting to discuss other alternatives to solve conflicts, including relocation, but the shop’s owner Mark Chavez said that despite calls from animal advocates, they won’t be backing down.
Photo credit: Thinkstock