Boing! The Kangaroo Rat has Bounced Back from Extinction

Ever heard of the kangaroo rat? Many people haven’t, and there’s a good reason for that: for more than thirty years we’ve thought it was extinct in its native habitat. But scientists have now revealed that the tenacious rodent is alive and kicking.

The San Quintin kangaroo rat, which earns its name thanks to its long legs and tendency to hop like a kangaroo, was thought to be gone from its native Baja California, Mexico. Its demise was put down to an agricultural boom in the region that cleared its once-plentiful arid lowland habitats along the coast in favor of strawberry fields and hot houses for growing tomatoes.

In fact, no kangaroo rat had been seen in the area since 1986. The consensus has been that the rat was now virtually extinct…until now.

Researchers from the San Diego Natural History Museum report that a routine inventory trapping exercise last year yielded a quite staggering result: caught (harmlessly) in one of their traps was a kangaroo rat, and a particularly feisty one at that as it reportedly escaped from the researchers with a few kicks of its powerful legs.

Ever heard of the kangaroo rat? Many people haven't, and there's a good reason for that: for more than thirty years we've thought it was extinct in its native habitat. But scientists have now revealed that the tenacious rodent is alive and kicking.

They have since discovered that the rat is present in a nature reserve south of San Quintin, further boosting its future prospects.

“Of course, this was incredibly exciting,” the researchers write in a blog post. “The rediscovery of the species gives hope that there are more individuals, but where else will it be found? Are there viable populations in other places? Are the sites impacted? Are they in protected areas? How do we protect it?”

These are all big, important questions. They needed a scientific answer, so the researchers set to work. Interestingly, they’ve chosen to go somewhat old-school for these conservation efforts.

The researchers are working with the group Terra Peninsular A.C. which manages the voluntary reserve in which the kangaroo rat was found. With this cooperation the researchers hope to gather data on just how many kangaroo rats are in residence.

Whether a big population or a last stand for the species, it is hoped that their presence in the reserve could help them survive and, if we support them, thrive.

Researcher Scott Tremor told Lonely Planet, “not only is this discovery a perfect example of the importance of good old-fashioned natural history work, but we have the opportunity to develop a conservation plan based on our findings.”

The researchers note that so far they have found further evidence of the rat in two reserves, Valle Tranquilo and Monte Ceniza. They may yet find evidence in other regions, too.

Does this mean that extinction warnings are overblown?

Definitely not.

While it is true that we sometimes find animals we thought were extinct have made a comeback, these cases are relatively rare. They’re even more unusual when we haven’t been directly involved in efforts to ensure their survival (after previously driving them head-on into extinction, that is).

So why was the rat able to survive, when signs suggested it had been wiped out? That’s a good question. As the researchers point out, this is a testament to how resilient some species can be, and how adaptation can allow some animals to overcome catastrophic habitat loss.

Amid this great news there’s a warning for us, too. Land clearing for farming is notoriously damaging to our wildlife, and we have already eliminated so much diversity in our environments that nearly every corner of the animal kingdom has suffered as a result.

We appear to have been given a second chance with the kangaroo rat, and now it’s time to jump into action and make sure that chance is not wasted.

Related at Care2

Images via San Diego Natural History Museum.

50 comments

KimJ ManyIssues
KimJ M3 months ago

Tfs

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KimJ ManyIssues
KimJ M3 months ago

Tfs

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KimJ ManyIssues
KimJ M3 months ago

Great news

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Melania P
Melania P5 months ago

Beautiful animals indeed

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Jetana A
Jetana A5 months ago

Kangaroo rats are so cute! I've had the privilege to have our species hopping around my feet as I sat outdoors at night. I hope this species from Baja gets the protection necessary to truly recover from near extinction.

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Deborah S
Deborab S5 months ago

Cute little guys. I hope they stay around.

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Sherri S
Sherri S5 months ago

Cute little one! I hope they are able to make a successful comeback

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Winn Adams
Winn Adams5 months ago

Thanks

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Winn Adams
Winn Adams5 months ago

Good News!

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Cathy B
Cathy B5 months ago

News that made my day. Thank you.

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