The Texas horned lizard is making a comeback.
A coalition of zoos and wildlife scientists have released 204 captive-bred newborns to the wild (100 of them hatched at the Fort Worth Zoo), the zoos said on September 16.
The release follows new evidence this year that previously released lizards are breeding now. There is help in Washington, DC too.A historic bipartisan proposal now passing through Congress, the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, would provide the resources needed to save this species and hundreds of other similar species.
Once common, the Texas horned lizard is now one of more than 1,300 species of special concern in the state.
For more than 10 years, the Texas Horned Lizard Coalition, which includes the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas Christian University, and zoos in Fort Worth, Dallas, San Antonio and elsewhere, has been studying how to restore Texas Horned Lizards to habitats formerly busy. Reintroduction efforts have taken place in the Mason Mountain and Muse Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) of TPWD, where extensive habitat management and restoration have provided critical ‘new homes’ for the lizard.
Researchers attempted to move adult lizards, capture them in the wild, and then release them on the WMAs. This provided a wealth of valuable data, but it also shed light on the challenges. Many displaced lizards have died, killed by predators. Normal wild mortality ranges from 70 to 90% and scientists have found this with displaced adults. In addition, capturing and moving enough adults in the wild to establish self-sustaining populations may prove to be unsustainable in the long term.
For these reasons, in recent years the focus has shifted to captive breeding Texas horned lizards at partner zoos, which allows for the breeding and release of hundreds of lizards at a time. Texas horned lizards have large clutches with many eggs, often with several clutches each year.
The Fort Worth Zoo has developed the breeding and husbandry protocols necessary to successfully breed and care for these animals in managed collections. These practices have since been implemented and modeled in several zoos across the state. The Fort Worth Zoo has the longest captive breeding effort in Texas and, in fact, the zoo hatched its 1,000th Texas horned lizard last week.
In August at Mason Mountain WMA, after years of releasing captive-bred hatchlings, biologists and graduate students at TPWD discovered a milestone. They found 18 hatchlings believed to be descendants of hatchlings raised in a zoo and released in 2019. To their knowledge, this is the first time that captive-bred horned lizards have survived long enough to breed with them. success in nature.
Biologists remain optimistic that further research and restoration work will ultimately lead to self-sustaining wild populations of Texas horned lizards. But they say the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would provide the funding needed to make that dream come true. People can learn how to help from the online toolkit of the Texas Wildlife Alliance, a grassroots coalition formed to support RAWA.