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Keeping it Local

From wolves to poppies, the ABQ BioPark is working hard to protect New Mexico native species

07/06/2016 - Many people know about the ABQ BioPark's worldwide conservation efforts, but the facility is also working to protect a slew of species a little closer to home.

Through ongoing conservation programs, the BioPark is helping conserve New Mexico native species, including some endemic species - those plants and animals that are found nowhere else in the world.

"Conservation is a vital part of the ABQ BioPark's mission and our staff is working hard to help save some of the state's native residents," said ABQ BioPark Director Rick Janser. "Through breeding and holding programs, as well as field work and research, we are helping to create healthy wild populations of many of New Mexico's native plant and animal species."

Zoo Returns to Breeding Mexican Gray Wolves

The Mexican gray wolf is one of the zoo's better known New Mexico-native residents. This sub-species of gray wolf ranges through New Mexico, Arizona and northern Mexico and is critically endangered. Although they once roamed throughout New Mexico, Texas, Arizona and Mexico, Mexican wolves were all but eliminated from the wild by the 1970s.

From 1983-2005 the zoo welcomed 69 Mexican gray wolf pups as part of the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program. After about a 10-year break, the zoo is at it again. Female Kawi arrived to the zoo in early 2016 and is recommended for breeding with male Apache. The pups could potentially go to other facilities for eventual breeding, and some could one day be released into the wild. In fact, one of the BioPark's former wolves, Flint, sired the two Mexican gray wolf pups that were just released into a wild den in Arizona. More information about the breeding program can be found here.

BioPark Gives Northern Mexican Garter Snakes a Second Chance

The ABQ BioPark also has several local reptile conservation projects, including the northern Mexican garter snake, which was once thought to be extinct in the state. Staff found four of these snakes near the Gila River in June 2013. The zoo currently has two males and one female, which are part of a captive breeding program to augment the captive population. On June 12, the zoo welcomed 11 healthy new baby garter snakes. More information about this program can be found here.

Zoo Breeding Vulnerable Sacramento Mountain Salamander

The Sacramento Mountain salamander is another endemic species that the ABQ BioPark is working to protect. This small, brown salamander is endemic to the Capitan, Sacramento and Sierra Blanca mountain ranges of southern New Mexico. The small population of salamanders is vulnerable to forest fires, logging, drought and climate change. An Asian born fungus called Bsal, which has yet to arrive in the United States, could also threaten the salamander in the future.

The zoo received 24 salamanders from the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish in 2013. No other facility has worked with this species in captivity and the zoo is adding to the species' knowledge base and attempting to breed salamanders. Success with this population could mean a potential wild release, and any knowledge collected could also benefit the Jemez Mountain salamander, another New Mexico endemic species that faces even greater threats. More information about this program can be found here.

Aquatic Conservation Facility Saves Local Freshwater Species

The BioPark is also reaching out to New Mexico's native water-dwelling residents such as the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow. The minnow was once one of the most common species in the Rio Grande and the BioPark has been part of the species recovery program since 2000. The BioPark's Aquatic Conservation Facility is one of three organizations in New Mexico that are cooperating to raise the endangered fish. Since it opened in 2003, the Aquatic Conservation Facility (ACF) has released about 670,000 minnows. Read more about the program here.

The ACF also works with a number of other native species including the Socorro isopod, a federally endangered New Mexico endemic species; the blue sucker (the Rio Grande population is considered a distinct sub-species, which is no longer is found in the Rio Grande); and the federally endangered Zuni bluehead sucker.

Botanic Garden Helps Preserve Native Plants

In addition, the ABQ BioPark Botanic Garden is working to conserve New Mexico native plant species like the endangered Sacramento prickly poppy and two federal and New Mexico species of concern, Fugate's amsonia and New Mexico beardtongue. The BioPark is working with many partners to establish ex situ, or "off-site," populations of these plants, and horticulture staff work with conservation partners on research projects and seed collection. Visitors can view these three plants on "Poppy Hill" in the Heritage Garden. Both the poppy and the beardtongue are reproducing freely and seeds from the beardtongue have been used for reintroduction within its range in southern New Mexico.

While New Mexico beardtongue is not listed as endangered, it plays a special conservation role in the wild. The species is a host for the caterpillar of New Mexico's Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly. This rare butterfly is found only in the Sacramento Mountains and has been proposed for listing as endangered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Story: Tina Deines