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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Wild Custer Adventure: Wildlife Loop

Murder in Custer State Park is available now on Kindle and in paperback

Step into the wild on Custer's Wildlife Loop...

Custer's Wildlife Loop winds eighteen miles through thick forests and granite bluffs to wild golden prairie.  The Loop garners its name from the vast Custer Wildlife population that lines the road, offering an insight to the intricate prairie and mountain ecosystems that converge in the park.  The change is scenery is jarringly, shocking the senses with windswept beauty that captures the heart to embrace nature in a new reverence.

The southern section of the loop has a visitor center offering insight on the grassland ecosystem. 

I recommend taking time to do the three mile Prairie Trail, which showcases the grassland habitat and wildflower meadows (bring plenty of water and use bug spray)

Here is a list of animals commonly found along the Wildlife Loop:

- Bison; 2000 pounds, shaggy with razor sharp horns, keep a distance of at least 25 yards; bison run 30+ miles per hour.  They are wild and dangerous.  Look at them with reverence from a distance.

-Whitetail Deer: white hair on the underside of tail, When the animal runs, the tail is flipped up and looks like a waving flag.

- Mule Deer: named for their large ears.  They have black-tipped tails, which are short and narrow and are carried down when the deer runs.  They bound with a stiff-legged gait.  You will not see a more powerful jump than the Mule Deer in 'flight.'

- Pronghorn: often incorrectly called antelope, live mainly on the open grasslands.  The name comes from the bucks' large pronged horns.  The females' horns are small and un-pronged.  Can run 40 mph or faster and are excellent jumpers!

- Prairie Dogs: The black-tailed prairie dog is found on dry, upland prairie.  They are a keystone species, meaning that other species depend on the prairie dog for survival including the Black Footed Ferret...Prairie Dogs live in large social groups called towns.  Prairie Dogs help to preserve the vitality of the prairie by conserving water.  They are misidentified as pests by ranchers, poisoned in mass, for fear their holes will break the legs of cattle, when actually there are no known examples of this happening.  Also ranchers have used the common myth that prairie dogs eat the cattle's grass, in truth prairie dogs eat the less nutrient rich part of the grass and pull up the richer root, which is preferred by cattle and bison - I will post more about the adorable and critical species soon!

- Begging Burros: The burros in CSP are not native to the Black Hills.  They are descendants from a herd that once hauled visitors to the top of Harney Peak.  When the rides were discontinued the burros were released into the park and they are a popular attraction.  They are used to people and put their heads in cars (use caution, but this is one exception of wildlife you can interact with - respect the animal and be aware of safety concerns)

- Elk: Elk are rarely seen in daytime hours, so dawn and dusk are the best viewing times

- Wild Turkey

- Bighorn Sheep: South Dakota's original bighorn sheep was the Audubon subspecies.  When it became extinct about 1920, a herd of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep was introduced to CSP.  They have a sturdy, yet gracious build and are able to move up and down the terrain with ease.  The males have curved large horns, the ewes have smaller horns.  Bighorn Sheep are at risk for pneumonia - DO NOT FEED THE SHEEP!   They are susceptible to getting sick and it is important to keep them healthy - when I was in the park in 2009, the population had dwindled to 19 because of pneumonia in sheep.

Murder in Custer State Park - Merritt and Josh spend their first 'date' together on The Wildlife Loop

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