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Last Updated: Sunday, 14 January 2007, 14:59 GMT
Prairie dogs at zoo put on diet
Black-tailed prairie dogs
The prairie dogs are usually hibernating at this time of year
A group of prairie dogs at an East Sussex zoo have been put on a diet as warm January temperatures mean they are not hibernating and continuing to eat.

The black-tailed prairie dogs, mammals from the squirrel family, are meant to be curled up in their burrows at Drusillas Park, Alfriston.

But they are still awake and putting on some weight as a result.

"It shouldn't hurt them... we're monitoring it very, very carefully," said Sue Woodgate from Drusillas.

The animals are adding to fat layers which they built up over the summer to see them through hibernation.

Apples and carrots

Ms Woodgate said: "Some of them at the moment, you can hardly see their little legs because they've got such good fat reserves.

"They're little blobby things running around which is quite hilarious."

Keeper Claire Bacon said the 20 prairie dogs were being fed on snacks of apples and carrots.

"We've been giving them this diet for a little while because they did put on a bit of weight," she said.

Black-tailed prairie dogs are native to North America, but Drusillas said their numbers had fallen drastically from the five billion that existed in the 1800s.

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