Donald Trump Jr. and his brother Eric planned to go on a prairie dog hunting excursion during their trip to Montana over the weekend to campaign for tech entrepreneur Greg Gianforte, the Republican nominee for Montana’s House seat in the 2017 election. Gianforte said he would take the Trumps on a hunting excursion to shoot black-tailed prairie dogs.
Gianforte is running to fill Ryan Zinke’s vacant seat in the House of Representatives. The seat became vacant after Zinke was confirmed as Interior Secretary. Zinke served from 2015 to 2017 as the U.S. representative for Montana’s at-large congressional district.
Donald Trump Jr. was scheduled to arrive in Montana on Friday, April 21, 2017, to start a four-day trip to help Gianforte campaign for the seat, according to Chicago Tribune. Gianforte reportedly planned to take the Trumps to a hunting excursion to shoot black-tailed prairie dogs. Many farmers and ranchers consider prairie dogs a nuisance and, according to Gianforte, they are “great fun to shoot.”
“As good Montanans, we want to show good hospitality to people,” Gianforte told the Associated Press (AP). “What can be more fun than to spend an afternoon shooting the little rodents?”
However, the comments by Gianforte, that “prairie dogs are fun to shoot,” sparked a backlash on social media, with animal lovers and rights activists expressing outrage. Many were upset that Gianforte regarded prairie dogs as “varmint” to be shot at sight for entertainment.
Comedy Central host Samantha Bee was one of the first to take to Twitter to express disapproval. She accused Gianforte and the Trump brothers of planning to shoot prairie dogs only for “shits and giggles,” according to the Daily Caller.
The Humane Society of the United States suggested that they shoot the prairie dogs with their cameras instead of their guns.
“I would love to take Donald Trump Jr. out with a spotting scope and shoot the prairie dog with our cameras,” said Humane Society spokesperson Sterling Krank, according to the Independent. “Shooting a prairie dog colony is not a good conservation message.”
However, Gianforte responded tauntingly.
“Clearly they’ve never shot a prairie dog. They don’t know how much fun it is,” he said.
“You should try it, because its fun,” he added, according to ABC Fox Montana.
Gianforte is campaigning on a promise to fight what he terms “Washington, D.C.’s war on the West.” He is also campaigning on the platform of gun rights, promising to defend the rights of Americans “to hunt, fish and recreate on public lands.”
Donald Trump Jr. is known to be an enthusiastic hunter and angler. He and his brother, Eric, came under fire from animal activists in 2011, after their tour company uploaded photos showing them posing proudly with their trophies, including a waterbuck and a leopard, according to Raw Story.
Prairie dog hunting is legal, and it is a popular pastime in Montana. Some defend prairie dog hunting, saying it helps farmers and ranchers to control the population of the rodents considered to be pests because they often destroy crops. The also dig deep burrows underground which sometimes cause injury to cattle and horses walking over them.
They are nongame species, and there are no official restrictions on hunting them. Hunters widely use prairie dog shooting for target practice, especially during the offseason.
However, conservationists and animal rights groups, such as The Humane Society of the Unites States, note that the period from early spring to June is the breeding season for prairie dogs and that hunters often shoot pregnant animals.
According to conservationists, prairie dogs are endangered and therefore should be protected during the breeding season. The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks lists prairie dogs as a species of concern, noting that their numbers are declining rapidly due to several factors, including hunting and encroachment of their natural habitats due to human development and agricultural activity.
According to conservationists, prairie dogs should be protected to prevent further decline in their populations.
Prairie dogs need to be protected because they “are an important keystone species with myriad other species dependent on their survival, including the burrowing owl, black-footed ferret and nesting birds,” explained Lindsey Sterling Krank, director for the Humane Society’s Prairie Dog Coalition. “We have a duty to protect them to ensure that every species within the ecosystem continues to thrive.”
Animal rights activists note that like chimps, dolphins, and orcas, black-tailed prairie dogs have a very advanced social life. They warn each other of approaching predators, using complex call patterns that researchers have described as “the most sophisticated vocal language ever decoded.”
[Featured Image by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]