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Lifestyle & Human Interest

Kangaroo Rat Believed To Be Extinct Resurfaces 30 Years Later

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The San Quintín kangaroo rat was last spotted in 1986 along the plains near San Quintín, and by 1994, Mexican authorities declared the creature extinct.

When intensive agriculture was introduced in the ’70s, the mammal’s habitat and food source began to disappear.

In the 1980s, Troy Best captured what was researchers came to know as the last photo taken of the species.

“There were numerous burrows with interconnecting trails and there was no indication as to how endangered the species really was,” Best recalled.

But now, almost 30 years after their disappearance, the San Quintín Kangaroo rat has resurfaced.

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The animal was rediscovered when researchers from the San Diego Natural History Museum were conducting routine surveys in the summer of 2017 and captured four of them in their survey traps.

Those researchers had never seen the species before, and after comparing it to photos and museum specimens, they realized what they’d found.

There’s a feeling of anticipation and excitement when you check the memory card of a camera trap that you left placed for days, or when you open a Sherman trap to see what animal is inside,” the researchers wrote.

“It’s not unlike the feeling of being a child discovering something new…a child who discovers the world around him or her and is amazed by its wonders.” 

Like other members of the family, the San Quintín kangaroo rat has a long tail and strong back legs which allow it to jump more than six feet at a time — hence their name.

This particular kangaroo rat is larger than most others in the area, and has quickly become known for its feisty demeanor while wriggling free from trained handlers.

The researchers believe the return of the thought-to-be-extinct mammal is due to the dramatic decline in farming in the area over the years from water shortages.

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Although they think farming will make its return as well, researchers believe the San Quintín kangaroo rat will not disappear as it did 30 years ago. They have also discovered the species in a nearby nature reserve, in addition to two other small mammals thought to be extinct in the Baja California Peninsula.

“These rediscoveries speak to hope and resilience in a changing world,” researcher Sula Vanderplank said in the press release.

In a blog post, Vanderplank, along with the other researchers, added that this discovery is a remarkable step for the future of the ecosystem.

“The importance of having rediscovered this species lies in the very importance of any species, however insignificant it may seem,” the post said. “The deep relationships between organisms and their environment are delicate, and the extirpation of a species has severe ecological consequences.”

“The story of the rediscovery is not over; on the contrary, we have found a blank book in relation to this species, a book that is waiting to be written.”

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Liz is a senior story editor for The Western Journal. A graduate of the University of San Francisco and the Columbia Publishing Course, Liz has a passion for telling stories that inspire kindness.
Liz is a senior story editor for The Western Journal. A graduate of the University of San Francisco and the Columbia Publishing Course, Liz has a passion for telling stories that inspire kindness.
University of San Francisco; Columbia Publishing Course
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
Health, Entertainment, Faith