|Endangered Species |
South Texas, Laguna Atascosa NWR in particular, is the last stronghold in the United States for the ocelot, a small cat that once roamed from South Texas up into Arkansas and Louisiana. This species has been reduced to approximately 50 animals in the United States. This is due primarily to loss of habitat.
The dense thorn forest that once covered much of the Rio Grande delta is hunting ground for the small, nocturnal cat. With the clearing of the brushlands, ocelots are forced to cross open fields and risk the dangers of vehicular traffic and predators, such as dogs. Increasingly isolated on these ‘islands of brush’, the ocelot’s genetic viability is of growing concern to biologists.
|Ocelot at water guzzler. Photo by USFWS
To ensure recovery of the species, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) is working on both immediate and long-term needs. On average, the Refuge traps and puts radio-collars on five to ten ocelots every year so that biologists can monitor their movements and learn more about their habitat needs, life history, and movement patterns. Refuge staff work with private landowners and non-profit organizations in the United States and Mexico that are interested in restoring ocelot habitat. The FWS also works with the highway department to install ‘ocelot culverts’ on highways. This allows ocelots, and other wildlife, to cross under roadways and prevent getting hit by cars, the major cause of death in the United States for this small cat. In addition, every year the Refuge and the Friends of Laguna Atascosa NWR host the Ocelot Conservation Festival. This festival, along with the Adopt An Ocelot program, is a great way for the public to get involved and help ensure there will always ocelots.
Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles
From April to mid July, Kemp’s ridley sea turtles come ashore to lay eggs on the warm tropical sands of South Padre Island. Because they are considered the most endangered sea turtle in the world, the Laguna Atascosa NWR works closely with Sea Turtle, Inc. to ensure the long-term survival of this species. Staff and volunteers from the Refuge patrol 32 miles of beach on the north end of South Padre Island looking for sea turtle nests. When a nest is discovered, biologists collect the eggs and transport them to a protected area. When the baby turtles begin to hatch they are released on the beaches under the protective eye of biologists, volunteers and the general public. In 2005, the Refuge released baby turtles from 10 nests. That number increased to more than 35 nests in 2009. Hopefully this species won’t be endangered much longer!
Newly hatched Kemp's ridley sea turtle. Photo by USFWS
An amazing endangered species success story is that of the Aplomado falcon! Once widespread throughout the American Southwest, two remaining pairs were known to exist in the 1940s & 50s – one pair near Brownsville, Texas, in 1946 and a pair in Deming, New Mexico, in 1952. Beginning in 1985, the Peregrine Fund began releasing captive-reared aplomado fledglings at the Refuge and nearby private lands. To increase their odds, several artificial nest structures were placed on the Refuge to improve nesting success. By early 2000, a wild population of about 40 pairs was firmly established on the Laguna Atascosa NWR. Today, this fast and nimble falcon can be seen perched among the yuccas scanning the grasslands for prey.
Laguna Atascosa NWR provides habitat for 11 federally-listed endangered or threatened wildlife species.
Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis)
Gulf Coast Jaguarundi (Herpailurus yagouaroundi cocomitli)
Northern Aplomado Falcon (Falco femoralis septentrionalis)
Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)
Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricate)
Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle (Lepidochelys kempii)
Leatherback Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)
Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus)
American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)
Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas)
Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta)