Nearly extinct, uncommon kangaroo rat present in Santa Clara County

For many years, an imperiled rodent was thought to exist solely in a tiny pocket of sandhills in Henry Cowell State Park in Santa Cruz County – and nowhere else on Earth.

However scientists have noticed new populations of the uncommon Santa Cruz kangaroo rat about 25 miles away within the rugged and arid mountains of Santa Clara County, elevating hopes for the long-term survival of a novel creature that appeared destined for extinction.

The invention exhibits that the furry and nocturnal pipsqueaks, who’re extra carefully associated to chipmunks than rats, are nonetheless hanging on — and are benefiting from habitat conservation.

“I used to be shocked when I discovered these animals. It was unbelievable,” mentioned Ken Hickman, who detected the elusive subspecies in Sierra Azul Midpeninsula Open House Protect, above Los Gatos, utilizing path cameras. “Folks have been searching for them for years,”

His 2019 discovery, confirmed in April when a workforce of Midpeninsula Regional Open House District biologists trapped 4 stay animals, is now being adopted up by a a lot bigger state-funded survey and genomic evaluation.

With tremendous lengthy tails, bulging eyes and large hind ft, kangaroo rats are achieved jumpers, leaping just like the a lot bigger kangaroo. The animal has tailored so superbly to dry landscapes that it not often wants a sip of water; as an alternative, it will get moisture from meals.

Why does this little creature matter? Kangaroo rats are thought of a “keystone species,” integral to sustaining a balanced and thriving ecosystem. Their caches of buried seeds assist give rise to a brand new technology of manzanita crops. Their burrows present shelter for toads, snakes, and different wildlife.

Santa Cruz kangaroo rats, a subspecies of the various household of kangaroo rats present in western North America from southern Canada to southern Mexico, had been as soon as way more considerable, dwelling in patches of steep and sandy chaparral all through Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, and San Mateo counties.

They’re awful diggers, so that they want free and porous soil. Additionally they depend upon the seeds of the manzanita plant for meals.

Since 1900, their vary has severely shrunk. A lot of the animal’s authentic habitat has been destroyed or degraded by sand mining operations and residential and business growth, in line with David Lee of San Jose State College and Jodi M. McGraw of The Land Belief of Santa Cruz County. As soon as contiguous, the Bay Space’s many sandhills have been minimize into fragments.

Regardless of in depth and repeated searches, the Santa Cruz kangaroo rat may solely be present in one place: the stays of an historical seabed within the protected hills of Henry Cowell State Park. The California Division of Fish and Wildlife labeled it a critically imperiled subspecies, that means that it’s liable to extinction.

“It was considered right down to that one pocket,” mentioned Hickman.

With a background in engineering and a allow from Midpen, Hickman in 2016 designed and constructed custom-made wildlife cameras.

He positioned them strategically at about 100 websites in Sierra Azul Protect, famed for its steep sandstone ridges and considerable manzanita.

A kangaroo rat hadn’t been seen in that space since 1940.  However the Sierra Azul Protect is essentially the most huge of Midpen’s open area lands, defending greater than 19,000 acres of wilderness — so Hickman sensed it could possibly be potential habitat.

In 2019, throughout a routine evaluate of his cameras, Hickman made a shocking discovery.

“I loaded up my pictures and noticed all these kangaroo rats,” he mentioned. “I had tears working down my face. It was principally a lightning strike.”

The photographs had been thrilling to Midpen, which has made nice efforts to guard and restore Sierra Azul. Its outstanding 3,486-foot peak, Mount Umunhum, was as soon as the positioning of an outdated army radar base, with deteriorating buildings and unsafe waste.

“It wasn’t an on the spot success story,” mentioned Midpen wildlife biologist Matt Sharp Chaney. “It took a number of work, a number of diligence. However after we noticed these pictures, we had been awestruck.”

A captured Santa Cruz kangaroo rat is held by MidPen Open House District biologist Matthew Sharp Chaney.(Photograph courtesy of Midpeninsula Open House District) 

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