The Canadian province of Saskatchewan is offering cash prizes to the top guns in its 2002 gopher-hunting derby, but the plan to rid the Prairie farming region of a plague of the cute, crop-eating rodents is drawing flak from animal rights activists.

The 2002 Ken Turcott Memorial Gopher Derby began this week in the western province. Named after a local, avid, gopher exterminator, the derby is sponsored by the Saskatoon Wildlife Federation, which warns that gopher numbers have reached epidemic levels.