What did the President know and when did he know it?

After hearing about the tapes President Trump made when he was interviewed by Bob Woodward I pretty much thought I had heard it all. I don’t really trust the media like I would like to and as a result most of my opinions about our President come mainly from his own actions and words.

Fortunately no one in my family has been hurt from Covid-19, but some have survived it and at least one of our friends lost both of his parents. He was a doctor working in a hospital and I assume his wife got it from him. I am so stressed by the people who don’t take Covid-19 seriously and those who continue to support a man who obviously is not protecting the American people like he should. Last year I was so concerned about his leadership that I said to myself that I thought something really bad was going to happen in 2020. Unfortunately my prediction is coming true and now I am even more fearful that it is going to get worse. Please take Covid-19 seriously and pandemic threats in the future. Speak out and get involved.

I listen to Morning Joe often, I also listen to other news sources including Fox and CNN. Remember when America found out about President Nixon and when Howard Baker asked aloud, “What did the President know and when did he know it?” 

Who will speak out the American beaver in El Paso?

American beaver swimming in a small canal west of the Montoya – Meadowlark intersection in the Upper Valley

On June 25 distinguished El Paso biologist, Dr. Ad Konings, went birding at the El Paso Country Club and found a beaver in a small canal west of the Montoya – Meadowlark intersection.  As he approached this very rare animal for El Paso and the largest rodent in North America, the beaver did what most beavers do when alarmed. With its most noticeable long, flat, black tail, the beaver slapped its tail against the water possibly to warn others in the canal.  Along the ditch there was some heavy machinery that had apparently removed the reeds from the south side of the canal.  Konings was afraid that the machinery was going to clear out the whole canal and impact the life of the beaver(s).  He understood that nobody wants a beaver on his property chewing saplings of trees and wondered if there was a way to protect the beaver(s).

Waterways in this area are managed by the El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1.  The Irrigation District manages 400 miles of canals including the international boundary with Mexico.   To protect beavers in El Paso we need to find out what happened to this beaver and what plans are in place to make our city a safe place for wildlife in El Paso waterways. 

Two days after taking making this rare wildlife sighting for El Paso, Konings returned to the canal and found a dead beaver.

At this time no one knows who killed the beaver and if local wildlife conservation officials were aware of what happened. I plan to look into it and hopefully others will join me. I have never seen a beaver in our area, but would be thrilled to encounter one like this. How about you? They are amazing animals when you study their life history.

No one knows how many beavers survive in our area, but I am pretty sure that they are not common.   If this beaver was causing a problem why couldn’t it be captured and relocated. Who will speak out for the American beaver in El Paso?  

I hope that you will share this post and speak out today.   If you don’t who will?

Rick LoBello

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.

If you like what I am posting on this website I invite you to follow me. All you need to do to learn of future posts is enter your email address in the follow link on the right or bottom of your screen.

God Bless America.

The Franklin Mountains are rich in biodiversity

Rock squirrel by Rick LoBello

by Rick LoBello, Education Curator

Everyone of us living on the planet needs biodiversity and ecosystem services to function. Biodiversity provides the world’s supply of oxygen, clean air and water, pollination of plants, pest control, wastewater treatment and many other ecosystem services. As a result we need to be informed and inspired to protect wild places and biodiversity. Our animals at the Zoo are conservation ambassadors for biodiversity around the world. They remind us that we share the planet with them and if the world becomes a unsafe place for wildlife, it will no doubt be an unsafe place for humans.

At the Zoo many of our animals and plants come from far away places like Asia and Africa. We also have animals and plants from the Chihuahuan Desert and our own backyard. For years the Zoo has encouraged our guests to continue their adventure after they visit the Zoo by exploring the natural world around us in local national parks and nature reserves. More and more parks are reopening and one of the best to explore close to home where you can connect with and learn to value biodiversity, is Franklin Mountains State Park. Franklin Mountains State Park currently summarizes what is known about the biodiversity of the Franklin Mountains on the list below. Next time you visit the park see how many plants and animals you can identify. The free iNaturalist app that you can download to your phone can help. The Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition has a FaceBook group where you can post pictures and get help.

Ocotillo flower.


More than 650 species of vascular plants have been reported for Franklin Mountains State Park.  Among the most common and characteristic species are: creosote bush, Agave lechuguilla, ocotillo, Southwestern barrel cactus, sotol, Texas sacahuista, pricklypear cactus, desert willow, skeletonleaf goldeneye, resinbush, Sneed’s pincushion cactus (endangered species), Texas rainbow cactus and eagle’s claw cactus. 



Although we do not have concrete research on the number of species of insects and other invertebrates, it is estimated to be in the thousands.  Some of the most characteristic species include walking stick insects (3 different species), desert tarantula, scorpions, millipedes, several species of beetles, grasshoppers and butterflies.


There are only two species of amphibians recorded in Franklin Mountains State Park.

Order Anura – Frogs and Toads

Scaphiopus couchi
 – Couch’s Spadefoot

Family Bufonidae – Toads
Bufo punctatus – Red-spotted Toad


There are about 33 species of reptiles confirmed to inhabit Franklin Mountains State Park.

Order Testudines – Turtles

Family Emydidae – Box and Water Turtles
Terrapene ornata – Western Box Turtle

Order Squamata
Suborder Lacertillia – Lizards

Family Iguanidae – Iguanids
Cophosaurus texanus – Greater Earless Lizard
Crotaphytus collaris – Collared Lizard
Holbrookia maculata – Lesser Earless Lizard
Phrynosoma cornutum – Texas Horned Lizard
Phrynosoma modestum – Round-tailed Horned Lizard
Sceloporus undulates – Eastern Fence Lizard
Urosaurus ornatus – Tree Lizard
Uta stansburiana – Side-blotched Lizard

Family Scincidae – Skinks
Eumeces obsoletus – Great Plains Skink

Family Teiidae – Whiptails
Cnemidophorus exsanguis – Chihuahuan Spotted Whiptail
Cnemidophorus inornatus– Trans-Pecos Striped Whiptail
Cnemidophorus neomexicanus – New Mexico Whiptail
Cnemidophorus tesselatus – Checkered Whiptail
Cnemidophorus tigris – Western Whiptail
Cnemidophorus uniparens – Desert Grassland Whiptail

Suborder Serpentes – Snakes

Family Leptotyphlopidae – Blind Snakes
Leptotyphlops humilis – Trans-Pecos Blind Snake

Family Colubridae – Colubrids
Bogertophis subocularis – Trans-Pecos Rat-snake
Diadophis punctatus – Ring-necked Snake
Gyalopion canum – Western Hooknosed Snake
Hypsiglena torquata – Texas Night Snake
Masticophis flagellum – Western Coachwhip
Masticophis taeniatus – Striped Whiptail
Pituophis catinifer – Sonoran Gopher Snake
Rhinocheilus lecontei – Texas Long-nosed Snake
Salvadora deserticola – Big Bend Patch-nosed Snake
Salvadora grahamiae – Texas Patch-nosed Snake
Sonora semiannulata – Ground Snake
Tantilla hobartsmithi – Mexican Blackhead Snake
Trimorphodon vilkinsoni – Texas Lyre Snake

Family Viperidae – Vipers
Crotalus atrox – Western Diamondback Rattlesnake
Crotalus lepidus klauberi – Banded Rock Rattlesnake
Crotalus molossus – Blacktail Rattlesnake


There are at least 100 species of birds recorded by direct sight within the park boundaries.  The most common species are:

Mourning Dove, White-winged Dove, Gambel’s Quail, Scaled Quail, Greater Roadrunner, Golden Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, Barn Owl, Great Horned Owl, Western Kingbird, Scott’s Oriole, House Finch, Black-throated Sparrow, Canyon Towhee, Cactus Wren, Rock Wren,  among others.  See complete list below.


Turkey Vulture – Cathartes aura 

Mississippi Kite – Ictinia mississippiensis
Northern Harrier – Circus cyaneus
Sharp-shinned Hawk – Accipiter striatus
Cooper’s Hawk – A. cooperii
Northern Goshawk – A. gentilis
Harris’ Hawk – Parabuteo unicinctus
Swainson’s Hawk – Buteo swainsoni
Red-tailed Hawk – B. jamaicensis
Ferruginous Hawk – B. regalis
Golden Eagle – Aquila chrysaetos

American Kestrel – Falco sparverius
Merlin – F. columbarius
Prairie Falcon – F. mexicanus
Peregrine Falcon – F. peregrinus

Scaled Quail – Callipipla squamata
Gambel’s Quail – C. gambelii
“Scramble” – Scaled – Gambel’s Quail Hybrid

Rock Dove – Columba livia (I)
Band-tailed Pigeon – C. fasciatta
White-winged Dove – Zenaida asiatica
Mourning Dove – Z. macroura
Eurasian Collared Dove – Streptopelia decaocto (I)

Greater Roadrunner – Geococcyx californianus 

Barn Owl – Tyto alba 

Flammulated Owl – Otus flammeolus
Great Horned Owl – Bubo virginianus
Burrowing Owl – Speotyto cunicularia
Long-eared Owl – Asio otus
Short-eared Owl – A. flammeus
Northern Saw-whet Owl – Aegolius acadicus

Lesser Nighthawk – Chordeiles acutipennis
Common Nighthawk – C. minor

Common Poorwill – Phalaenoptilus nuttallii
Whip-poor-will – Caprimulgus vociferus

Black Swift – Cypseloides niger

Vaux’s Swift – Chaetura vauxi

White-throated Swift – Aeronautes saxatalis

Black-chinned Hummingbird – Archilochus alexandri
Costa’s Hummingbird – Calypte costae
Calliope Hummingbird – Stellula calliope
Broad-tailed Hummingbird – Selasphorus platycercus
Rufous Hummingbird – S. rufus

Red-naped Sapsucker – Sphyrapicus nuchalis
Ladder-backed Woodpecker – Picoides scalaris
Northern Flicker – Colaptes aurantus 

Say’s Phoebe – S. saya

Ash-throated Flycatcher – Myiarchus cinerascens
Cassin’s Kingbird – Tyrannus couchii
Western Kingbird – T. vociferans

Horned Lark – Eremophila alpestris 

Violet-green Swallow – T. thalassina
Cliff Swallow – Hirundo phrrhonota
Barn Swallow – H. rustica

Western Scrub Jay – Aphelocoma californica
Pinyon Jay – Gymnorhinus cyanocaphalus
Chihuahuan Raven – Corvus cryptoleucus
Common Raven – C. corax 

Verdin – Auriparus flaviceps    

Cactus Wren – Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus
Rock Wren – Salpinctes obsoletus
Canyon Wren – Catherpes mexicanus
Bewick’s Wren – Thryomanes bewickii
House Wren – Troglodytes aedon

Ruby-crowned Kinglet – Regulus calendula
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – Polioptila caerulea
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher – P. melanura

Western Bluebird – Sialia. Mexicana
Mountain Bluebird – S. currucoides
Townsend’s Solitaire – Myadestes townsendi
Hermit Thrush – Catharus guttatus
American Robin – Tardus migratorius

Northern Mockingbird – Mimus polyglottos
Sage Thrasher – Oreoscoptes montanus
Curve-billed Thrasher – Toxostoma curvirostre
Crissal Thrasher – T. dorsale

Cedar Waxwing – Bombycilla cedrorum

Phainopepla – Phainopepla nitens 

Loggerhead Shrike – Lanius ludovicianus

Solitary Vireo – Vireo solitaries
Hutton’s Vireo – V. huttonii
Warbling Vireo – V. gilvus
Philadelphia Vireo – V. philadelphicus 

Yellow Warbler – Dendroica petechial
Yellow-rumped Warbler – D. coronate
Wilson’s Warbler – Wilsonia pusilla

Western Tanager – Piranga. lucoviciana

Pyrrhuloxia – Cardinalis sinuatus
Black-headed Grosbeak – P. melanocephalus
Blue Grosbeak – Guiraca caerulea

Green-tailed Towhee – Pipilo chlorurus
Spotted Towhee – P. maculatus
Canyon Towhee – P. fuscus
Cassin’s Sparrow – Aimophila. Cassinii
Rufous-crowned Sparrow – A. ruficeps
Chipping Sparrow – Spizella passerine
Clay-colored Sparrow – S. pallida
Brewer’s Sparrow – S. breweri
Field Sparrow – S. pusilla
Black-chinned Sparrow – S. atrogularis
Vesper Sparrow – Pooecetes gramineus
Lark Sparrow – Chondestes grammacus
Black-throated Sparrow – Amphispiza bilineata
Sage Sparrow – A. belli
Lark Bunting – Calamospiza melanocorys
Savannah Sparrow – Passerculus sandwichensis
Song Sparrow – Melospiza melodia
Lincoln’s Sparrow – M. lincolnii
White-crowned Sparrow – Zonotrichia leucophrys
Dark-eyed Junco – Junco hyemalis

Brewer’s Blackbird – Euphagus cyanocephalus
Brown-headed Cowbird – Molothrus ater
Bullock’s Oriole – Icterus bullockii
Scott’s Oriole – I. parisorum

House Finch – Carpodacus mexicanus
Pine Siskin – Carduelis pinus
Lesser Goldfinch – C. psaltria
American Goldfinch – C. tristis

House Sparrow – Passer domesticus 

Bobcat, NPS Photo


There are about 30 species of mammals within Franklin Mountains State Park.

Order Insectivora – Insectivores
Order Chiroptera – Bats
Family Vespertilionidae – Vespertilionid Bats
Lasiurus  cinereus – Hoary Bat
Myotis californicus – California Myotis
Pipistrellus herperus – Wetern Pipistrelle
Plecotus townsendii – Townsend’s Big-eared Bat

Family Molossidae – Free-tailed Bats
Tadarida brasiliensis – Brazilian Free-tailed Bat

Order Lagomorpha – Hares and Rabbits
Family Leporidae – Hares and Rabbits
Lepus californicus – Black-tailed Jackrabbit
Sylvilagus auduboni – Desert Cottontail

Order Rodentia – Rodents
Family Sciuridae – Squirrels and Allies
Ammospermophilus interpres – Texas Antelope Squirrel
Spermophilus spilosoma – Spotted Ground Squirrel
Spermophilus variegatus – Rock Squirrel

Family Geomyidae – Pocket Gophers
Thomomys bottae – Botta’s Pocket Gopher

Family Heteromyidae – Pocket Mice and Kangaroo Rats
Chaetodipus intermedius – Rock Pocket Mouse
Chaetodipus nelsoni – Nelson Pocket Mouse
Dipodomys ordii – Ord’s Kangaroo Rat

Family Muridae – Mice and Rats
Mus musculus – House Mouse (introduced)*
Neotoma albigula – White-throated Woodrat
Peromyscus eremicus – Cactus Mouse
Peromyscus maniculatus – Deer Mouse

Order Carnivora – Carnivores
Family Canidae – Canids
Canis latrans – Coyote
Urocyon cinereoargenteus – Common Gray Fox

Family Procyonidae – Procyonids
Bassariscus astutus – Ringtail

Family Mustelidae – Mustelids
Mephitis mephitis – Striped Skunk
Mustela frenata – Long-tailed Weasel
Spilogale gracilis – Western Spotted Skunk
Taxidea taxus – American Badger

Family Felidae – Cats
Felis concolor – Mountain Lion
Felis rufus – Bobcat

Order Artiodactyla – Even-Toed Ungulates
Family Tayassuidae – Peccaries
Tayassu tajacu – Javalina, Collared Peccary

Family Cervidae – Cervids
Odocoileus hemionus – Mule Deer

Taken from elpasozoo.home.blog – El Paso’s number one Conservation Education news source.

Big Bend, a moment in history

Big Bend National Park is one of the best places in the world where you might see a mountain lion while driving through the park or hiking.

Special thanks to Dion Recachina who I met over 30 years ago at a Cooperating Associations Conference for all his help in making this film a reality. We talked about how Big Bend National Park needed a good documentary and without any cost to the park we worked together with park staff to produce this story. Since the film was released the park helped to produce three other documentaries with the most recent ones available through the Big Bend Natural History Association.

The script was a collaborative effort between Dion and his team and the park’s Interpretive Division. I was fortunate to serve as the location director and arranged to take the film crew at no cost to the park through Santa Elena Canyon. I also found a doctor in Fort Stockton with a pet mountain lion, but the most memorable moments happened in a helicopter. Thanks to the Border Patrol sector in Marfa a pilot and helicopter were donated to the park for several hours. Imagine how exciting it was after working in the park since 1975 to be able to tell the pilot where to fly to take the aerial footage.

Thanks to YouTube and the copyright holder I was able upload this original version of the production to my channel. It was dedicated to the memory of my mother Shirley LoBello.

Join our team at the Zoo

Our Sumatran orangutan family is one of most exciting exhibits at the Zoo.
I have been fortunate to travel around the world. Here I am with a baby giant panda in China.

This year marks my 18th year working as the El Paso Zoo’s first Education Curator. It has been a very interesting year so far as you can imagine with many of us working from home and many more of us going to work every day to take care of our precious collection of rare and endangered wildlife. Did you know that you can show your support for our efforts with the click of your mouse? All you need to do is visit our Conservation Education blog and enter your email address in the “follow link” at the bottom of your screen on your phone or at the bottom of the page on your computer. We also are looking for people to join our team to help us share our conservation messages on social media and more. Learn more here.

One of the most common things people have said to me in El Paso is how lucky I am to work at the Zoo. Well it may be difficult to get a job there, but you could still be involved. I want to give everyone who reads this message the opportunity to join the Zoo’s conservation education team. No matter where you live and what you do or how old you are, there are many ways you can get involved with our organization and support conservation projects to save endangered species.

As you can see from the video clip below, my passion for conservation and wildlife is something that is a very big part of my life. Ever since I was 4-years old and my mother joined my kindergarten class as a chaperon on a field trip to the Buffalo Zoo in New York, I loved being close to nature and different kinds of animals. The challenges we face in conserving our planet and all the plants and animals we share it with are growing every day. Let’s get going and do something about it. Joining our team at the El Paso Zoo is one way you can get more involved.

Join our conservation education team at the Zoo and join me in following your wildlife dreams

click here to learn more

The world needs super heroes

Every day more and more of our planet’s ecosystem is being destroyed by people who care more about short term gains rather than the future of humanity.   Last year Paulo Paulino Guajajara, an indigenous leader working to protect the Amazon rainforest in northern Brazil, was shot and killed by armed men who no doubt saw him as a threat to the logging industry.

The problem in South America is the same around the globe as the world’s population climbs towards eight billion and natural resources are constantly impacted by people only wanting to survive and have a decent quality of life.   Amazingly the people who are aware of the complex problems every nation faces including the United States, oftentimes feel powerless when big money backed leaders of almost every country act irresponsibly when looked at in terms of the future of the planet.   We truly have one earth and one time, and each one of us needs to get involved and be a part of the solution.

People of the world in every country need to come together and find a better way to move forward.  Today we are not seeing the critical leadership the world needs in our hate filled capital in Washington D.C, we are not seeing that kind of leadership in other countries as well.  In spite of the best efforts and passion of those holding leadership positions in the United Nations, overall most of their efforts to bring the world together are failing.

So what can we do?   If you need inspiration all you need to do is look around.  On almost every corner of the planet there are people from all walks of life working on the ground making a difference.   Are you one of them?  If not, you don’t have to continue sitting on the sidelines.   Decide today to become a hero for the planet, perhaps even a super hero.

World’s rarest marine mammal on the edge of extinction

Last year the El Paso Zoo delivered over 18,000 letters to
Mexican President Obrador asking for his help in saving the vaquita.

Over the past few years I have been involved in conservation efforts to save the vaquita, a species of porpoise endemic to the Gulf of California. Averaging 150 cm or 140 cm in length, it is the smallest of all living cetaceans. Today, the species is on the brink of extinction.  Last year in collaboration with the Living Desert Zoo and the Aquarium of the Pacific, the El Paso Zoo sent Mexican President Obrador over 18,000 signed letters from our guests asking that he provide strong leadership for vaquita conservation efforts.   The latest information we have now is how Mexico has committed resources to using photo ID to estimate the number of vaquitas surviving in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez (Upper Gulf of California).  

Few people know about the emergency efforts underway to save this very small species of porpoise, found only in one small area of the Sea of Cortez in the Upper Gulf of Mexico.   Vaquita numbers have decreased dramatically to less than ten animals as a result of commercial fishing in the area where they have been caught and drowned in gillnets.   To help increase awareness of their plight and to encourage people to help save them, the El Paso Zoo has supported the AZA SAFE and the Vaquita Action Plan.    AZA SAFE stands for “Saving Animals from Extinction” and focuses the collective expertise within our accredited zoos and aquariums and leverages their massive audiences to save species.  At the same time, SAFE will build capacity to increase direct conservation spending, as well as our members’ impact on saving species through work in the field, in our zoos and aquariums, and through public engagement. We have done it before. Some species exist only because of the efforts of aquariums and zoos.  They include two species currently living at the El Paso Zoo, the Mexican wolf and the Przewalski’s horse.

The vaquita lives only in the wild which makes saving it from extinction a much greater challenge compared to efforts to save other species on the brink of extinction.  Before the Mexican wolf went extinct in the wild during the late 1970s, the last known wild wolves were captured in Mexico and moved to breeding facilities.   It seems unlikely that such an approach would work for the vaquita since they have never survived for very long in captivity.    

To help save the species from falling victim to gillnets used within the fishing industry for the capture of other species, Mexico and United States have committed to intensify bilateral cooperation to protect the critically endangered vaquita marina porpoise, including through the following actions:

• Mexico will make permanent a ban on the use of gillnets in all fisheries throughout the range of the vaquita in the upper Gulf of California;

• Both countries will increase cooperation and enforcement efforts to immediately halt the illegal fishing for and illegal trade in totoaba swim bladders;

• Both countries will redouble efforts, in collaboration with international experts, to develop alternative fishing gear to gillnets that does not result in the entanglement of vaquita and establish “vaquita-safe” fisheries; and

• Both countries will establish and implement a long-term program to remove and permanently dispose of illegal and derelict fishing gear from vaquita habitat in the upper Gulf of California.

To help save the vaquita zoo guests are encouraged to:

– Become a member of the El Paso Zoological Society.

– Use your Seafood Watch Guide or app to help you choose sustainable seafood.

– Plan to participate in International Vaquita Day on July 18, 2020.

– Don’t eat Fish Maw soup! This soup is made with the swim bladder of the endangered totoaba, which vaquita are often collateral damage of illegal fishing.

– Talk with your family and friends about the vaquita.

– Support organizations which focus on marine conservation and research. https://www.facebook.com/lasthopeforthevaquita/

  • Story reprinted from the El Paso Zoo Conservation Education Blog – Follow the El Paso Zoo Conservation Education blog for updates on all of the Zoo’s conservation efforts. The simple act of following this blog is an easy way to show your support for conservation in El Paso and around the world.

Dreaming of a peaceful world

buck mule deer

If there ever was a time for all 7 billion of us to find a way to become united like never before, that time is now.   During this pandemic and in the years ahead everyone of us needs to stay engaged, no matter how difficult.   We only have one time to make a difference for our children and future generations, and that time is now.    Yes, I am an eternal optimist and I will always dream and hope for a peaceful world where all life is respected and people live in harmony.

My rl update

Over the past six weeks I have been very fortunate to be able stay working and to telecommute from home.  Not everyone has this opportunity and I am blessed.   My main focus is keeping my team engaged with our community in every possible way by blogging about our animals and our conservation efforts and offering free distant learning programs.

Rick' Conservation blog graphic 1 proof

You can be a part of and support our efforts by simply following our blog with your email address.   And if you want to help in other ways simply let me know by sending me a text or dropping me an email.   It would be great to catch up on the phone someday too, just let me know.

Stressed by the pandemic? Get outside


Spring is in the air, the birds are singing and flowers are blooming.   We are being told to avoid gathering with other people so what can we do to keep our sanity?   One way is to get outside, in your backyard pulling weeds, taking care of your plants, enjoying the night sky and going for a walk in nature.

Over the past week I have spent time enjoying the beautiful Mexican poppies in Northeast El Paso and exploring Franklin Mountains State Park.   Beauty is everywhere if you will just go out and find it.


So far most parks and natural areas are open, but I suggest if you go somewhere you stay close to home.   I say close to home because of a Facebook post I saw yesterday from my friend Marcos who lives just outside Big Bend National Park.   He makes some good points about the stress those who provide visitor services are worried about.  Here is what he said in entirety:

To Brewster County Judge Cano and Robert Álvarez (Executive Director Visit Big Bend):

I am writing to ask you to consider suspending promotion of additional tourism to the Big Bend. On the contrary we should be sending a message to the public that this is not the best time to visit Big Bend. During this period when we are all trying to minimize our social contacts we do not need to be encouraging additional visitation to the Big Bend. These visitors present an increased risk for our community at a time when people should be encouraged to stay home and minimize the spread of covid -19. The increased visitation also creates a greater demand for the limited resources we have available to us down here. I believe that both the tourism council, and the Emergency Services District should be exploring how they can provide assistance to this community during this difficult time. Thank you for considering our recommendations for those of us living down here.

Marcos Paredes
Cc Bob Krumenaker NPS


My number 2 team is NUMBER 1!

1974 Kansas City Chiefs
Former Kansas City Chief’s Head Coach Hank Stram

The Kansas City Chiefs had just won Superbowl IV and I was a freshman at William Jewell College, home of the Kansas City Chief’s training camp from 1963-1990.   During my senior year I was able to take a job working at the camp helping where ever I was needed. The job came with a salary, free meals and lodging where I lived in a dorm called Newman’s Hall (Browning Hall) with the players.

I will never forget all the great food I was able to enjoy in the cafeteria including all you could eat filet mignon.   At lunch every day the veterans would pick on the rookies and one of the funniest things was when they were asked to stand up on a table and sing the Denver Broncos fight song.   Back in those days the Broncos were not that good having loosing seasons from 1960 to 1972.

During lunch time a number of the veterans would drive up to the cafeteria in fancy new cars and they were big, not just the cars, but the players.

Most of the starters like Quarterback Len Dawson and Defensive Tackle Buck Buchanan lived nearby.  The players I came most in contact with were the rookies.   One memorable friend at camp in 1974 was John Casola.   John was the brother of Sal Casola, a college kicker that the Chiefs had signed on for the training camp in hopes of finding a new kicker to back up Hall of Famer Jan Stenerud. Although no one in camp knew it at the time, Sal was apparently discouraged when he was waived by the Buffalo Bills and did not want to come to Kansas City.   So his brother John who was also a kicker decided to take his place and use his brother’s name Sal when he signed with the Chiefs.   So when we first met he called himself Sal, but his real name was John.

I was also working part time at the Kansas City Museum of History and Science and invited John to come to the museum and meet some of my friends on his day off.   He dated one of the girls in the gift shop and we all went to an Elton John concert at Arrowhead Stadium.

One day John disappeared and I did not find out what happened until I read the Sport Section in the Kansas City Times on August 20, 1974.   The Chiefs had lost their game against the Buffalo Bills on Monday night August 12, and when they did they learned from the Buffalo Bills Coaching staff that the Sal Casola on the Chief’s roster was not the same Sal Casola who had played for the Bills.    After a short conversation with Bill’s coach Lou Saban, on Tuesday Chief’s head coach Hank Stram called Casola into his office.   After confessing that he indeed was an imposter, John packed up his bags and left camp that same day never to be seen again.


My last day working for the Chief’s was on August 31, 1974 when the Chief’s played their final game of the preseason at Dallas.   My job on that day was to run Polaroid pictures of the formations from the Press Box down to the field for the coaches.  Back in those days we did not have all the technology that we have today.  Pictures could be sent down to the field on a cable at Arrowhead, but when playing away games someone had to run the pictures down to the field.   It was fun and great exercise and later some of my friends at Jewell told me that they saw me during the TV broadcast wearing my William Jewell shirt.

Most of my friends know that I have been a Buffalo Bills fan all of my life, but not everyone knows that my number two team has always been the Chiefs.   I am not sure if the Bills will ever win the Super Bowl in my lifetime, but at least I have one team that has become champions not once but twice.   Go Chiefs, Go Bills.

William Jewell College is the oldest college still active today west of the Mississippi River.   Jewell Hall housed Civil War troops and was apparently also used as a military hospital.  


Help build a roof in Africa


My friend Dr. Alan Goodall, who some of you may know as the author of The Wandering Gorillas, has asked me to help the Batwa in Rwanda with several projects – especially this one https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-kwizera-go-to-school.

I posted a blog about the Batwa late in 2018 and just recently have been in touch with Richard Ntakirutimana by SKYPE discussing ways that I can help raise funds by selling Rwandan coffee.

Whilst they only raised some $2000 of the needed $8000, they have made great progress as you can see here on the photo they just sent Dr. Goodall.

Now they desperately need funds to complete the roof – so PLEASE, PLEASE try and get ALL your friends to send some more donations via the GoFundme web site

Dr. Goodall is now working with them to get support from the Belgian Government for my ‘Dream Project’ (from several years!)

Project – Short title “Creating a Vision 2020 school for Historically Marginalised People in Rwanda”

Project – Long title ”Using the latest IT technology – to enable Historically Marginalised people in Rwanda to take advantages of  the new IT infrastructure – and thereby ‘leapfrog into the 21 st Century”

Dr. Goodall has believed for decades that this the future of education – ie not teaching but ‘Learning’  So, Teachers will have to become ‘Coaches’ – as in sports.  If you are interested in what remarkable work has already been done – look up Sugatra Mitra in Google and YouTube.

PLEASE – look up their organisation  ‘AIMPO’ via Google – and you will see the work that their amazing team are trying to do for the Batwa – who are now called ‘Historically Marginalised People”  This is because the new laws in Rwanda forbid any ethnic group names.

You will recall that these are the very people who were evicted from their traditional forest homes – to create the National Park – for GORILLAS!

Many of these people have since died. They are now in much more danger than the gorillas – who are increasing in numbers.

Why not in El Paso?

Let’s create a Northern Chihuahuan Desert Wildlife Park in the Franklin and Organ Mountains


The other day I received a conservation alert from the Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition.   The alert reported on City Council plans to discuss a conservation easement and Natural Open Space Zone to be placed on the lands that make up the Lost Dog Trail in Northwest El Paso.   The alert stated that 89% of El Pasoans who voted in the May 4, 2019 election support long term preservation of this area and that the people who support it want it fully implemented with no further delay.   Was I surprised by the vote?  Not a chance, over the past two decades I have interacted with thousands of people living in our area and the vast majority support natural open space and habitat conservation.

The Lost Dog Trail is located on a very small parcel of desert.  Overall very little of the lower elevation habitats in Northwest and Northeast El Paso remain intact from what I first experienced when I visited El Paso nearly 50 years ago.   Most would agree that the Franklins are one of the most unique aspects of our city attracting  many of the people who live here today.  Now that so much of the Franklin Mountain’s  wilderness has disappeared and been replaced by urban sprawl, the challenge of protecting what remains is greater today than when Franklin Mountains State Park was first opened to the public in 1987.

Recently I read a story about how a privately funded non-profit organization is creating a 3.2 million wildlife sanctuary – American Prairie Reserve– in northeastern Montana.   When complete it will be the largest wildlife sanctuary in the Lower 48 states and a haven for wolves, grizzly bears and bison.   Wouldn’t it be great to have a similar reserve in the northern Franklin and Organ Mountains near Las Cruces?   A large protected zone straddling the border of New Mexico and Texas would provide a very large area of  habitat for a great diversity of desert mountain species and could someday be home to prairie dogs, bison, elk, pronghorn, wolves, bears and jaguars.  Very few people living in El Paso and Las Cruces know this, but there was a documented report of a critically endangered Mexican wolf in this area as recently as January of 2017.

A Northern Chihuahuan Desert Wildlife Park could be funded in many different ways including from both private and public entities.    With 89% of El Pasoans going to the polls in support of protecting the Lost Dog Trail, I wonder how much support there would be for a grand conservation project like the American Prairie Reserve in our part of the world.   Recently I was encouraged to learn that a similar reserve is being created southwest of El Paso in northern Chihuahua.   It’s called the Janos Biosphere Reserve.  The reserve is home to the largest prairie dog town in North America, bison and critically endangered black-footed ferrets and Mexican wolves.

What’s needed now more than ever is not just master plans for the development of infrastructure, but a master plan for the conservation of our desert and the Franklin Mountains.   Want to help?   Please use the contact form below.


Looking forward to Desert Conference

My 45-year journey in the Chihuahuan Desert began in 1975 when I was hired as a park ranger naturalist in Big Bend National Park.  My greatest joy ever since has been helping people connect with and appreciate this part of our world.  Today as the Education Curator of the El Paso Zoo I am working with staff and others who love this eco-region in pulling together a Chihuahuan Desert Conference on November 6-7 2019. 

During the Icebreaker we plan to show the River and the Wall, an important new documentary
that  follows five friends on an immersive adventure through the unknown wilds of the Texas borderlands as they travel 1200 miles from El Paso to the Gulf of Mexico on horses, mountain bikes, and canoes.

The film was recently awarded a Jury Prize at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival.

Why a Chihuahuan Desert Conference?   All one has to do is look around where you live to see how rampant urban sprawl is changing the landscape and destroying habitat and wildlife corridors. As the world’s population reaches the 8 billion mark, the future of humanity and the environment hangs in the balance.  The Chihuahuan Desert like almost every eco-region on the planet is constantly threatened.   The conference hopes to help people connect face to face and hopefully build and renew important collaborative relationships.  El Paso’s number one outdoor conservation education center, the El Paso Zoo, is the perfect setting.

About eight years ago when the Zoo crafted a ten-year Master Plan, the staff decided that the number one goal should be helping people discover and value the natural environment where they live.  When you look around El Paso and see how it has grown over the years it is easy to see how important it is for people who live here to value the natural landscape.

When it opens this fall the Chihuahuan Desert Exhibit will play a major role in helping the Zoo accomplish its mission of celebrating the value of animals and natural resources and in creating opportunities for people to rediscover their connection to nature. The $14 million signature project will replace approximately 20 percent of the Zoo’s exhibits.

The Chihuahuan Desert experience will highlight the flora and fauna of the region. The exhibit will include an arroyo helping people to better understand one of the desert’s important naturally occurring environmental features. A new Lobo Vista classroom with viewing windows looking into endangered Mexican wolf and Thick-billed Parrot exhibits will help Education Specialists present engaging programs for school groups. There will also be new exhibits for prairie dogs, desert birds, bolson tortoises, jaguars and endangered peninsular pronghorns. An abandoned old ranch house exhibit will be home to smaller animals of the desert that have moved inside. Just outside the house there will be a family of coatis.

A mountain exhibit surrounded by a grassland zone will be home to big cats like the jaguar and mountain lion. Natural landscapes featuring common plants of Chihuahuan Desert habitats will help to tell the story of how wildlife and people have adapted to this arid region. Habitat zones will include creosote, grasslands, pinyon-juniper woodlands and Madrean woodland.

img007 (2)
Leading a nature hike in the Grapevine Hills of Big Bend National Park

Photos –
Top, Rick LoBello,
Bottom, Vidal Davila

“Half of all land must be kept in a natural state to protect Earth”

What will El Paso do when there is no more land to develop?

by Rick LoBello

All over El Paso and the surrounding area developers are on the move building new roads, shopping centers and housing areas.  These projects are making life a little easier for those of us who drive back and forth to work and the jobs that are connected to them, all obviously very important to our community’s quality of life.

The other day I received an email asking me about what is being done to  save the land in El Paso west of War Highway by the Newman power plant. “If its to be turned into subdivisions are there any plans to save some of the cactus or other things?”

Since I am involved with more than one environmental group in El Paso I reached out to a number of people who I thought might be able to help.   One person who responded was Judy Ackerman.  I have know Judy ever since I moved to El Paso.  Judy is a conservation warrior extraordinaire.  Before I post her answer I have a question that I would like to pose, one that I have asked again and again at conservation meetings.  Unfortunately it is a question that few people want to hear.

What will El Paso do when there is no more land to develop?

Most people holding the keys to our future don’t want to deal with this question and the few people who go to the polls to elect them don’t really understand how bad things are getting.  Several months ago National Geographic published an alarming article entitled
Half of all land must be kept in a natural state to protect Earth.”  The easy to read report states that human civilization over the next ten years must double the size of protected zones to prevent dangerous warming and unravelling of ecosystems.

If world leaders, and that includes LEADERS IN El PASO, don’t increase their commitments to conserve land and water quickly, we won’t be able to preserve a stable climate and high quality of life.  As a conservation educator and scientist working to stay informed and working on the front lines of many environmental efforts, I am convinced that this science about our future is relevant to our community and the future of humanity.   If you agree then ask your own questions, stay informed and ACT.  Act now, Act tomorrow, Act every day of your life.  Our future, our children’s future, and the future of our civilization depends on everyone of us.

Judy’s answer

Several people are very concerned that city owned land west of Martin Luther King (War Highway) might be developed – especially since that land includes recently dedicated trailheads Lazy Cow and Round House!

I am currently unable to take the lead on this issue, but include on the “To” line several others who care about this issue, in the hope that someone will contact you with suggestions how to keep an eye on City Staff actions in TIRZ 13.

You might also contact members of the Open Space Advisory Board: http://legacy.elpasotexas.gov/muni_clerk/detail.asp?id=96.

On Cactus rescue, the leaders are Peter Beste and the El Paso Cactus and Rock Club, https://www.facebook.com/epcrc/.  Current president is Paul Hyder.