June 7, 2011

Endemic Species of Mexico

Endemic species are those creatures, birds, plants etc that are only found in one place in the wild. By their very nature, they are endangered. If there is only a population in one place, then something negatively effecting that habitat is going to threaten them with extinction. From volcanic bunnies to rare giant frogs, megadiverse Mexico has thousands of endemic species. Let us examine just a few.

Cozumel Thrasher

Cozumel Thrasher

The Cozumel Thrasher is a mockingbird that lives only on the Island of Cozumel, off the Yucatán Peninsula. It is the most critically endangered bird in Mexico, as its population levels have dropped dangerously.

It's not alone in that status on the island. This is the sole habitat of several other birds and mammals, all of which are protected, as humanity tries to hold back the tide of extinction for them.

The Thrasher is special though, in that it's already been extinct and come back. Well, not quite. It was assumed to be gone from the world and was thus registered. Then, in 2004, someone spotted one in Cozumel and there has been a scramble to save it ever since.

Some think that it's already too late, as there has not been a reliable sighting of Cozumel Thrasher since 2008. If you're on the island, please keep your eyes peeled. There will be a lot of relieved ornithologists, if you find it.

Flat-headed Myotis

Flat-headed Myotis

The bat is one of the smallest in the world. It weighs about the same as two peanuts held in your hand. It's also one of the rarest creatures to spot, even in its natural habitat in a valley in Coahuila. It was first seen in 1952, then not again until 1966, when there were two separate sightings. Then nothing. By 1996, it was declared extinct.

A team from the Program for the Conservation of Bats of Mexico weren't happy with this designation, so set out to try and find the miniature bat. That was in 1997. In 2006, they finally found eleven of them, in Los Pinos, Coahuila. You can read all about it in their article: 'The Flat-Headed Myotis is Alive & Well: 'Extinct' bat is rediscovered in northern Mexico'.

Great Peeping Frog

The Great Peeping Frog, aka Rana-fisgona Labios Blancos, is only found in the Zonas del Pedregal de San Ángel, just south of Mexico City. Its natural habitat is sub-tropical or tropical dry shrubland, thus it loves the lava fields of Volcán Xitle.

The problem for this frog was that it lives so close to Mexico's capital city. As the city expanded, it ate up more and more of its habitat, right up until the point when someone realised it was going to become extinct. Pedregal de San Ángel has now been made a nature reserve, with the Great Peeping Frog under the 'special protection' registration of the Mexican government.

Nevertheless, there are no natural corridors into the outside world and the population of these mighty frogs has dangerously decreased. Survey work is currently underway to determine how many are left and if they are going to survive as a species.

Guadalupe Fur Seal

Guadalupe Fur Seal

You used to be able to find the fur seal all up the Pacific coast, from Mexico to Canada. However, their skin is so soft, dense, waterproof and lovely, who wouldn't want to make clothes out of it? As a result, they had been hunted out of existance, in the USA, by 1825. Now they can only be found on and around Mexico's Guadalupe Island, off the coast of Baja California.

Commercial hunting stopped, in Mexico, in 1894, when just seven remained. The Guadalupe Fur Seal population has now grown to approximately 10,000, so their status has been altered to 'near threatened', as opposed to practically extinct. They remain listed as 'endangered' in the USA though. Guadalupe Island has been declared a seal sanctuary.

There was a bit of drama concerning one recently. A stray young male Guadalupe Fur Seal washed up on Torrey Pines State Beach, in the USA, in a terrible condition. He was starving and suffering from both hypoglycemia and hypothermia. He was taken to SeaWorld, in San Diego, where he was nursed back to full health. Nicknamed Buddy, the seal was then returned to the Pacific Ocean. As he was fitted with a tracking device, it is known that he immediately headed home and appears to be going strong. (Guadalupe Fur Seal Released Into the Ocean.)

Mexican Prairie Dog

Mexican Prairie Dog

Southern Coahuila and northern San Luis Potosi are the only places where the Mexican Prairie Dog might be found. However, they are another species which has made it onto the 'endangered' register. This time it is because they have been historically considered to be agricultural pests. Therefore ferrets kept being sent down their 'towns' (subterranean habitat of the prairie dogs) to kill them.

The 'towns' generally have a funnel-like entrance, leading into a sloping passageway up to 100ft underground. Leading off this tunnel are little rooms, all dug out by the prairie dogs. Inside them, the prairie dogs sleep and store grasses, herbs and other tasty items of food.

Since 1994, the prairie dogs, now living in less than 4% of their original habitat, have been listed as 'endangered'. Two organizations, Pronatura Noreste and Profauna, have taken it upon themselves to save them. They have been highly successful in securing the protection of 42,000 acres (170 km²) of grasslands for the prairie dogs. This involved getting a lot of signatures from private land owners and those using communal areas. It is hoped that the initiative will see the survival of these creatures.

Querétaro Pocket Gopher

Querétaro Pocket Gopher

In the north-eastern corner of Querétaro state, there is the Sierra del Doctor. Nestled deep in this remote, tiny mountain range is the Querétaro Pocket Gopher.

Very little is known about this small mammal. It lives underground and it is noctural. But there are so few of them, in such a remote location, that most research relies on hearsay. The locals know all about them. They see the evidence in mounds of earth, under which the pocket gophers have been burrowing.

For many farmers, they are incorrectly seen as pests, despite the fact that there is some evidence that the pocket gophers are responsible for the richness of the soil up there. All that digging has the effect of aerating it, while their droppings fertilize the it, deep underground.

San José Island Kangaroo Rat

San Jose Island Kangaroo Rat

As the name suggests, the San José Island Kangaroo Rat can only be found on San José Island, off the coast of Baja California, where it is steadily being eaten out of existence by feral cats. There are very few adults left now and they all live in very close proximity. These rats are, therefore, listed as Critically Endangered.

In addition to the feral cat problem, there's also the habitat destruction by wild goats and human development. The Mexican government, fearful of an actual extinction here, have stepped in to protect the immediate vicinity of the rats' home. They live in open grasslands, close to a sandy beach.

For the record, kangaroo rats aren't related to the marsupial. But they do tend to hop, instead of the scurrying of an average rat, hence the name.

Tres Marias Raccoon

Tres Marias Raccoon

It is thought that the ancestors of the Tres Marias Raccoon was just the same as any other common Mexican raccoon. But sometime in the past, the raccoons got trapped or taken to an archipelago, just off the coast of Nayarit. The Islas Marias became their home and, without contact with the mainland, the Tres Marias Raccoon evolved into an entirely different family.

This raccoon is quite large, compared to its mainland cousins, with an angular skull also setting it apart. Scientists are still arguing over whether it is a separate species or simply an interbred stray family. No conservation efforts are currently in practise.

Unfortunately, it's on the brink of extinction, having been listed as 'endangered'. Only 250 known adults survive on two of the three islands; while they've disappeared completely from Isla María Magdalena. The largest number exist on Isla María Madre, where the islanders are still killing them as pests.

Volcano Rabbit

Volcano Rabbit

Stand in Mexico City and look to the horizon. There are three large volcanos (not all are active), upon the slopes of which live the world's rarest bunny. The Volcano Rabbit loves the warm soil. In particular, it loves the leaves that grow on zacatón grasses, which only grow where there is thermal heating.

They live at an altitude of 9,186-13,943ft (2800-4250 meters), in an area of dense pine forest. They congregate in families of just two to five and emerge at dawn or dusk. The rest of the time, they are deep underground in their warrens.

The Volcano Rabbit is endangered, though, surprisingly, that has nothing to do with lava. The zacatón grass has been over-grazed, because natural corridors to other areas have been cut off by human development. In addition, the rabbit has been used for target practice. There are now laws in place to stop both things happening again.

Yucatán Wren

Yucatán Wren

The Yucatán wren is only found on the northern strip of the Yucatán Peninsula. This is an area of dense mangrove shrubbery, right on the Caribbean coast, which is a perfect habitat for them.

It is always dangerous, in terms of the survival of a species, to live in just one locality. The poor Yucatán wren had the misfortune to choose an area just north of Cancún for its home. As the demand grows for holiday accommodation, and homes for those serving tourists in all of the attractions, the borders of Cancún have crept ever northwards. Its now encroaching upon Yucatán wren territory.

Things aren't critical yet. The wren is listed as 'near threatened' and planners have been quick to react to conservation concerns. Ría Celestún, San Felipe and Río Lagartos are all designated national parks, where the Yucatán wren can live in protection.


  1. Are you sure the prairie dog and the pocket gopher are not found in Zirahuen, Michoacan. If not, do you know what kind of gopher that is, that the call a "tusa" and that they regularly shoot as a pest?


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