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One lucky prairie dog made a Longmont photographer an award winner

Trevino’s victorious prairie dog was one of at least 7,000 photos submitted to WCPA this year, he said.
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"Prairie Dog Ninja" won Art Trevino the Alex Walker’s Serian Creatures of the Land category award at the international Wildlife Comedy Photography Awards

Art Trevino, also known as Pappa Dukes, submitted a lucky shot to the international Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards, or WCPA, and came back a category winner this year thanks to his “Ninja Prairie Dog.” 

The international award has brought Trevino a lot of attention so far, he said, including compliments and international press coverage. A German nature magazine even picked up his photo for print, which Trevino was looking forward to getting in the mail.

Trevino has practiced photography as a hobby and profession for more than 40 years, starting at the University of Texas in Austin “during the dark ages,” Trevino said. Learning on film cameras, Trevino worked in advertising and did commercial photography in Boulder in the mid-70s. Life took a different turn, along with his career, and Trevino put photography away for a while.

After living in Florida for 30 years, Trevino moved back to Boulder County and settled in Longmont. With the digital age, he picked up a camera and started exploring photography as a hobby again. Trevino considers himself a semi-professional photographer — he’s not making a living off of it — but he loves to do it. 

Sharing that love with others, Trevino works as a tour guide in Rocky Mountain National Park on the weekends, showing off natural splendor and teaching tourists how to set up the perfect photos to capture their Rocky Mountain memories.

Trevino takes a lot of landscape and wildlife photos, especially of birds-of-prey. He also volunteers with the Front Range Nesting Bald Eagle Studies to observe and keep notes on the active Bald Eagle nests in the area, giving him plenty of opportunity to catch the raptors in action.

The award-winning shot, a prairie dog starting to leap at a flustered bald eagle, was a matter of timing. Trevino was driving along Hygiene Road, west of Longmont, in an area where bald eagles are known to nest. After a heavy spring snow storm earlier in the year, Trevino saw an eagle on the hunt, so he pulled over and waited.

“I thought you know, I’m just going to wait, I have nothing to do,” Trevino said.

With his Sony A9 that shoots 20 frames per second, Trevino wanted to catch the eagle in flight. Following the eagle as it flew over a prairie dog colony, the eagle missed his prey and landed in the snow a few feet from the prairie dog.

“The prairie dog jumped a few inches off the ground towards the eagle and I captured the whole sequence,” Trevino said. “The eagle backed away because he didn’t want to get bit. After the eagle was surprised, the prairie dog scurried away into his burrow.”

Trevino said he must have had a couple hundred shots from the brief encounter between the eagle and the prairie dog. The “Ninja Prairie Dog” wound up being the one shot out of all of them, Trevino said, where the eagle’s wings looked perfect and the prairie dog was just barely off the ground.

“Ninja Prairie Dog” opens up a few options for Trevino, who sells his photos online. Trevino now has the image on t-shirts, mugs and more through his own website, as well as prints available for sale directly through WCPA.

Trevino’s victorious prairie dog was one of at least 7,000 photos submitted to WCPA this year, he said. The competition is open to all photographers, amateur or professional, so long as there’s an element of humor in the photo.

WCPA started in 2015 by international photographers Paul Johnson-Hicks and Tom Sullam to bring attention to conservation issues with a photography competition that was striking and light-hearted. Each year, WCPA donates 10% of the net revenue to conservation efforts around the globe. This year’s funds go toward the Gunung Palung Orang-utan Conservation Program in Borneo.

The prairie dog’s new lease on life net Trevino the Alex Walker’s Serian Creatures of the Land category award, which mostly comes with a nice certificate, a high-end camera bag and the ability to say he’s an award-winning photographer. Trevino had hoped to be the overall winner, which comes with a one week safari in Kenya as the prize, but is still happy to have one of the best photos of the year.