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El Paso Zoo mystery: The case of the vanishing prairie dogs

EL PASO, Texas (KVIA) -- The El Paso Zoo has made significant modifications after a colony of prairie dogs suddenly vanished from their exhibit.

According to officials, the prairie dogs were reported missing in March 2022. However, the last time they were seen was in September 2021.

The colony of 14 black-tailed prairie dogs was likely underground for the colder season.

After their disappearance, zoo staff members began to search for them. A volunteer even remained in the area an entire day waiting for their re-emergence.

A few Fort Bliss soldiers dug up the tunnels, but no trace of the animals was ever found.

The zoo director, Joe Montisano, told ABC-7 he is still puzzled by the disappearance. He says in his 27 years in the zoo industry, he has never heard of anything like this happening.

"There were no remains, there wasn't anything going on. They dug out the entire exhibit and there is no bone or fur," Montisano said.

He said they didn't immediately notice their disappearance since they are always underground.

"We had them for so long and you get used to seeing them and not seeing them and all of a sudden we noticed they are not popping up,"

Zoo staff only noticed after the rodents weren't eating their food. He believes a hawk or a domestic cat is to blame for the sudden disappearance.

The zoo reported the disappearance to the United States Department of Agriculture. Montisano said the zoo was not fined.

But the zoo added a net over the exhibit to prevent other animals from coming into the enclosure.

The director said in the next few months a new colony of prairie dogs will be brought to the El Paso Zoo.

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Rosemary Montañez

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