Texas may be regarded as a land of cattle barons and high-caliber hunters, but it is also the home of animal lovers who want to keep endangered critters from waddling off into the sunset of eternity. One near extinct species of prairie chicken is the subject of a dedicated rescue effort by Texas conservationists, according to a report by Steve Campbell of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram .
According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Services, the Attwater Prairie Chicken was placed on the federal endangered species list in March 1967, and its population has dwindled since then, reaching as few as 42 individuals in 1996. The bird, which flourished 100 years ago, is native to 6 million acres of coastal prairies stretching from Corpus Christi to Louisiana, where the influx of human populations and cattle grazing usurped its natural habitat. Now the rare cluckers live almost entirely on dedicated refuges.
In 1972, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service purchased the approximately 3,500 acres near Eagle Lake that would become the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge. Now spanning 10,528 acres, the refuge is home to 58 of the 66 Attwater's that still live in the wild, Terry Rossignol, recovery team leader for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, told the Star-Telegram.
Though conservation attempts hope to bolster wild populations, right now the best chance for the Attwater's seems to be in captive breeding. Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, a nonprofit conservation facility southwest of Fort Worth that works in tandem with the Fish and Wildlife Service, has been a crucial component in keeping the Attwater's from fading into extinction. Since 1992, Fossil Rim has released roughly 1,200 birds back into the wild from its breeding facility, wrote Campbell.
"If it had started just a few years later, there probably wouldn't be any Attwater's today. That's how close we were to losing the species," said Rossignol. "It gave us just enough time to figure out the techniques and start increasing them in captivity. Fossil Rim's work was crucial." According to their website, Fossil Rim produces two-thirds of the total Attwater's population every year.