Volunteers protect endangered mascot

The mascot of our school has become endangered and could become extinct throughout Texas, but a TCU professor said it’s not too late.Tony Burgess, professor of environmental studies, said he has created a project in hopes of preventing the horned lizard from becoming extinct.

Burgess said the number of horned lizards in Texas has been declining during the past 30 years. Research done on the reason for the decline has not given any conclusive evidence as to why. While the cause of the decline is unknown, volunteers are making sure the current population of horned lizards will have a future in Texas.

“We have teamed up with the Fort Worth Zoo and the Fort Worth Nature Center,” Burgess said. “While these two institutions have provided us with housing for the lizards and future land for the animals, we still need help from TCU students with the labor.”

Molly Holden, a science education graduate student, said, “The habitat is the key to the project.”

“We really need the students help in preparing the land,” Holden said. “The more students that come and help, the sooner the land will be ready for the lizards.”

Burgess, Holden and other TCU students and faculty have been going to the nature center preparing the land. They have to make sure the area will provide the needed ecological factors to ensure that the lizards will be able to survive.

Abby Davis, a junior environmental science major, said the volunteers are currently monitoring the ant colonies in the area where the lizards will be released

“These ants make up the diet of the horned lizard,” she said, “and we have to make sure that there will be enough food for the lizards to survive.”

Other than making sure the lizards will have enough food, the volunteers also have to make a record of the current animals living in the area, as some of them could be a predator of the horned lizard, Burgess said.

“It is more than just monitoring ant colonies, and cleaning up the land,” said Ryan Seaver, a sophomore biology major. “We have to take care of detail, from knowing what vegetation lives here, where the nearest water source for the lizards is, to what animals currently live here and what their diet is.”

The nature center has given 3,000 acres of land, but with so much land to cover and only a few volunteers, it is a slow process in making sure the land has all of the necessary requirements, Burgess said.

Sophomore biology major Cory Leach said students should realize that their participation can make a difference.

“If students take a little bit of time to come out and help, we can and will save these lizards – our mascot,” Leach said.

Currently, the Fort Worth Zoo has between 20 and 25 adult horned lizards. The zoo is going to breed the last remaining adults in the zoo and take care of the newborns until their new habitat at the Fort Worth Nature Center is completed. Burgess said.

Burgess said he hopes it will only be a little more a year until the lizards can be removed from the zoo and placed in their new habitat.