Gophers: Cute Cuddly Critters, or Unwanted Pests?

Animals – Gophers – Images by Sean Phillips

I’ve been getting lots of contacts lately about my images of gophers. I think this is partly because it is spring on the prairies and these cute little critters are starting to appear again after a long winter underground. But I think it is even more so because they have been making the news a lot lately in Canada due to their recent designation as Pests in the Province of Saskatchewan. Inclusion in the province‚Äôs Pest Control Act means that it is now legal to exterminate these animals along with other pests such as Rats and Grasshoppers.

Although commonly known as gophers, these animals are officially called Richardson’s Ground Squirrels. They are often confused with Prairie Dogs, however that is an entirely different species. No matter what they are called they are very fun to watch and extremely photogenic. I have literally made thousands of images of these funny little critters and I’m always happy to make a few more!

The designation of gophers as pests makes me a little bit sad, because I really do enjoy watching them, but the simple truth is that the prairies are infested with these animals. In the areas where I roam I can scan the ground and see the typical grass and soil conditions in which they live and there are signs of their burrows everywhere. They are especially problematic for farmers because their burrows tend to collapse under the weight of the farm equipment, which can lead to significant damage and expensive repairs, and in areas where the population is particularly dense they can actually ravage the crops simply by eating. Unfortunately this is a man-made problem because our influence has allowed them to thrive on the prairie farmland in several ways: we grow lots of food, such as canola, that they love to eat; we till the ground which makes it easy for them to dig and survive; and we have significantly reduced the populations of their natural predators such as coyotes and foxes.

So does this make them a pest? I guess it does in the eyes of many. But I personally think that they are awfully cute and cuddly too, and I love to share my images of them!

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Sean lives and works in Calgary, Alberta, Canada and is surrounded by majestic views of the Rocky Mountains and constantly changing prairie landscapes. While focusing on the beauty of the prairies, including the sweeping horizons, the vegetation, and the birds and animals, the Eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains are also a favorite place to wander and photograph.