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Efforts to protect the endangered blunt-nosed leopard lizard

Posted at 6:17 AM, Dec 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-19 12:59:52-05

WIND WOLVES, Calif. (KERO) — If you visit the Mojave Desert, or even Wind Wolves Preserve and Tejon Ranch here in Kern County, you might come across one of these short-snouted spotted reptilians. The blunt-nosed leopard lizard has been considered an endangered species since the beginning of the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

But these little creatures have persevered over the decades, thanks to programs like the preserve and efforts across the state.

“They come out here to enjoy Wind Wolves for hiking and everything, but I would like the public to be aware of these species," said Wind Wolves Ranger Travis Bibee.

They were here long before we were. Before the roads, before the buildings, before the farming and drilling, the blunt-nosed leopard lizard ran throughout the Central Valley.

You’ll know one when you see it, thanks to its unique and bold spotted skin.

“The males will be darker than females but they’re all known to have dark spots around their backs," Bibee said.

Dr. David Germano, Emeritus Professor at Cal State Bakersfield, has dedicated his life to learning about wildlife, and the past 30 years dedicated to studying the blunt-nosed leopard lizard. He says thanks to preservation efforts, destruction of habitat — the leading cause of blunt-nosed leopard lizard population decline — has decreased.

“There's still concern that if there's even more development where we haven't protected areas that they might go extinct, but their prospects are much better now than they were, 40-50 years ago,” Germano said.

Now the focus is shifting to growing the population. For more than a decade, the Bureau of Land Management has been closely monitoring blunt-nosed leopard lizards. To support the species’ recovery, the BLM and Fresno Chaffee Zoo, along with other partners, developed a captive breeding plan with six adult blunt-nosed leopard lizards collected from Panoche Hills to serve as founders over the next five years.

“As long as they have enough habitat to survive in, they likely won't go extinct," Germano said. "And again, it’s because of these protections."

The blunt-nosed leopard lizard is native to desert valleys with relatively sparse cover of herbaceous vegetation with areas of bare ground. Germano says that the introduction of non-native grass to their habitat has played a role in decreasing their population, but is being remedied by cattle grazing. A 2011 survey of rare species at the Wind Wolves Preserve conducted by California State University, Stanislaus noted that habitat management strategies that result in a reduced herbaceous vegetation density might benefit blunt-nosed leopard lizard populations on the Wind Wolves Preserve.

“We want people to be encouraged and always try to do their own research and understand these habitat roles and why things are different than they were back in the day," Bibee said.

The blunt-nosed leopard lizard is one of the endangered species that will soon be permanently protected under the California Rangeland Trust here in Wind Wolves.

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