Wildlife El Paso

I am working on a new Facebook page for anyone interested in the wildlife living within the city limits of El Paso, Texas and beyond. This page will help our community better appreciate the natural world around us in hopes that more people will value protecting the vanishing habitats that are critical to the survival of hundreds of wildlife species.


https://www.facebook.com/wildlifeelpaso/

Image above by Carolyn Whitson, Wikimedia Commons

Last chance to save the vaquita

Over the past few years I have been involved with international efforts to help call attention to the plight of the rarest marine mammal on earth, the vaquita porpoise.  This beautiful sea creature from the Sea of Cortez is so rare, and its future so much in doubt, that the species could go extinct at any moment.  Today there are just a few animals living in a very small area of the ocean, about 1100 square miles in size. 

Vaquita rarely swim beyond their small shallow marine environment and have the most restricted range of any cetacean. None of the vaquitas that might be still alive today are monitored by GPS devices so the only way scientists can get an accurate count is by photo ID.  Last October porpoise.org reported that a survey was underway, but no information has been made public since.   According to the website the “latest report by the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA) estimates that only between 6 and 22 individuals remained alive in 2018. It is possible, though, that there no more than 10 vaquitas left. (For comparison, in 1997, the population was estimated to be about 600 individuals strong.)”

5 things you can do to help save the vaquita

Here are 5 things you can do to help the Vaquita on International Save the Vaquita Day, Saturday, July 18.

  1. Share this blog on social media.
  2. Discover how complex this rescue effort is by watching the free National Geographic documentary Sea of Shadows.  After you watch it organize an awareness and take action campaign where you live.
  3. Support organizations working to save the Vaquita like the Porpoise Conservation Society.
  4. Support the team of conservation warriors risking their lives to save ocean animals every day aboard the Sea Shepherd
  5. Stay informed and show your support conservation efforts by following this blog with your email address.

A most incredible flower

Havard agave, Green Gulch in Big Bend National Park

I first came to know what today I believe is the most beautiful and incredible flower of the Chihuahuan Desert, when I worked in Big Bend National Park as a park ranger.   Just days after I arrived, right outside the front door to the Panther Junction Visitor Center, was a huge century plant in full bloom.   Large yellow panicles covered with dozens of 3-4 inch flowers, grew from alternating side branches.  The flower stalk easily reached over 10 feet tall and was at least as thick as a baseball bat.  The melon sized panicles were covered with nectar rich yellow flowers and if you spent time standing there you could identify dozens of different animals visiting the flowers.   Nearly two dozen bird species were regulars including Black-chinned Hummingbirds, Lucifer Hummingbirds, Scott’s Orioles, Cactus Wrens and all kinds of bees and other insects.    Because so many species were attracted to the flowers many of us nicknamed the century plant the cafeteria plant of the desert.  


Over time I observed how even after the flowers died the plant was still important to many desert species like the Ladder-backed Woodpecker.  Often times I would see these woodpeckers moving up and down the dying stalk looking for insects and then in future years, if the dead plant was still standing, peck out a hole in the stalk and build a nest.    If after the woodpecker was finished living there and the stalk remained intact, the hole it built might also become a nesting site for an Elf Owl.

Mexican long-nosed bat feeding on century plant flower. US. Fish and Wildlife Image.


Of all the animals associated with the century plant one of the most notable are the nectar feeding bats of the Chisos Mountains.  When I worked in the park I met Joe Kuban who was a park researcher studying the only known Mexican long-nosed bat colony in the US.  All summer long Joe would watch for the bats feeding on century plant flowers at night with a flashlight.   I recall him telling me that on one night he counted as many as 200 bat visits per minute to one of the plants he was observing.   When I asked him how he made the count he said that the bats would approach the plant from the bottom and then fly up the stalk towards the flowers.   All he needed to do is point a light at the stalk and then count bats flying by.

Joe Kuban in the Chisos Basin of Big Bend National Park studying century plant pollinators.


Last November Loren K. Ammerman, a Professor of Biology at Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas presented a paper on the Mexican long-nosed bats at the Chihuahuan Desert Conference hosted by the Zoo.  She reported that the population in Big Bend was very stable and that census results were averaging 2062 bats during the summer months. 

There are eleven species of agave in Texas. The gigantic Havard Agave (Agave havardiana) is one of the most visible icons in Big Bend National Park, but the most numerous in the park and elsewhere in the Chihuahuan Desert is lechuguilla (Agave lecheguilla).

Lechuguilla in Big Bend National Park with the Sierra del Carmens and the Maderas del Carmen
protected area in the distance.

Photos 1, 2, 4 and 5 by Rick LoBello

Happy 4th of July everyone!

This year was to be the 24th Annual Independence Day Parade sponsored by the West El Paso Rotary Club.   We all know that because of the pandemic, and how we all need to stay safe, there was no parade this year. Hopefully there will be a parade next year.

Back in the days when I was active on the Rotary Club parade committee I was the club photographer. I always enjoyed filming the parade and to help us remember and celebrate the 4th of July here are two of my favorite parades from 2013 and 2014.

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God Bless America.