FORT WORTH, Texas — Just in time for the start of college football season, the Fort Worth Zoo is set to release horned lizards into the wild to help save the animal and its declining population.
The horned lizard is likely most famous for being the mascot and nickname of TCU, but the experts at the zoo point out the term ‘horned frog’ isn’t accurate.
“We’re, you know, rooting for them, but hypnotoad is – it’s not a toad,” Vicki Poole, the zoo’s ectotherm associate curator said. “In reality, horned lizards are lizards.”
In recent years, the shrubby ranch lands they call home are going away, and fire ants are eating their food. As new homes and roads pop up, their population has fallen.
“It’s declined,” Poole said. “It really has declined over the years.”
In 2005, Fort Worth became the first zoo in the world to successfully breed horned lizards, releasing their first hatchlings in 2011 in Parker County.
They used cooled indoor areas to hibernate them before putting pairs together in warm, outdoor sandy areas.
In two weeks, they’re releasing around 250 newborn lizards about the size of a quarter after first watching them in captivity and letting them learn to find food and water.
“I’ve lived in Texas all my life and these used to be my classroom pets when I was a kid,” Robyn Doege, who manages the horned lizard mating, said.
Despite the work towards helping the lizard, the zoo's efforts are still growing and not keeping up with the decline in the population – at least not yet. Right now, the animal is listed as threatened, which is next to endangered on the scale of risk.
“Our small little efforts are still in the grassroots stage,” Poole said.
But the mating is progress, and without more room to use, the hope is other zoos start similar efforts.
“You feel validated that all the time that you schedule your vacation around horned lizard breeding season,” Doege said. “You schedule your time off based on what’s going on with this species, so it makes it all worthwhile.”
Like the team that represents them, the lizards might need a little luck to make it, but they have plenty of supporters behind them. Dynasties and population building just take time.
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