The narrative of endangered species conservation is a long one. As the human population rises and the trees fall, wild animals are forced to flee their natural homes to smaller plots of land surrounded by highways, homes, and chain-link fences. The monotonous modern hum of human society has been slowly creeping across the surface of the planet – silencing all chirping, croaking, and purring.
But this is not to say institutional improvements haven’t been made for the betterment of animal welfare and the care of the remaining wild places. As time moves forward, we are getting smarter, becoming more aware, and inaugurating very creative and extremely effective strategies to save the animals and habitats we endangered in the first place.
An entire series of posts can be dedicated to everything we’ve done (and still have yet to do) for the protection of endangered species and their wild lands – the list of approaches and policies is exhaustive. But the purpose of this post is to laud the incredible work done by field scientists and veterinarians in protecting endangered species and preserving their unique homes. Below is a description of a single event that highlights the danger field scientists and veterinarians face when pursuing their goals of species conservation. These events, I’m sure, occur every day, in every country, throughout the world, at any given moment.
Researchers at the Kanahau Utila Research and Conservation Facility (KRCF) on the small, tropical island of Utila, Honduras were out on field surveys tracking and tagging endangered Spiny-tailed iguanas (Ctenosaura bakeri), or Swampers, known by the locals. These iguanas are endemic to the island (they only exist there!) and their survival is threatened daily by population expansion, the tourism industry, mangrove habitat loss, plastic pollution, and predation (by humans, invasive raccoons, and domestic cats brought from the mainland). The goal of KRCF is to document swamper population levels, educate locals and visitors about their ecology, and ultimately save the swamper. They also placed camera traps throughout remote parts of the island to record animal behavior and anything that would walk through the frame.
While out on survey one day they came across a camera trap, shattered and broken, years of valuable footage lost. Given what was found in the debris nearby, a bullet, they suspect poachers may have destroyed the camera after unknowingly walking into the frame and setting off the recording. Who knows what they could have been doing.
And the bullet, stamped with the mark we know all too well – USA.
This story sheds light on the risk scientists and veterinarians take, every day, when working to save endangered species and the environments in which they live. Although this is a singular event involving one small research team on a tiny island with one species, events such as these are occurring on even larger scales with multiple species across political borders involving thousands of organizations and groups.
And the bullet made in the USA being used by poachers, or perhaps drug runners, in the swamps of an island off the coast of Honduras? That’s an entirely separate issue in itself.