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Kangaroo rats: barrier to development or species worth saving?

Kang rat
The Stephens' kangaroo rat, native to Riverside and San Diego counties, has been blamed for halting residential development and freeway construction and increasing the risk of fire because federal law makes it illegal to destroy its habitat.

The U.S. government considers kangaroo rats a protected species. And coyotes, as it happens, consider them delicious.

In rural Riverside County last week, under a warm moon and a gentle wind, three dozen Stephens' kangaroo rats burrowed into new homes. There were no coyotes present--scared off perhaps by mountain lion urine that had been sprinkled around the Southwestern Riverside County Multi-Species Reserve, an expanse of shrubby hills between Diamond  Valley Lake and Lake Skinner.

It doesn't do much good to relocate the tiny rodents with the twitchy noses to safer surroundings, only to see them gobbled up.

In 1995, the Riverside County Farm Bureau had challenged the idea that the rats merit such protection. In August, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rejected that challenge — and a similar one filed in 2002. The farmers may appeal.

A program between the reserve and the San Diego Zoo's Institute for Conservation Research gathers up kangaroo rats and takes them to safer areas that have the kind of bunch grass and chaparral they like for food and cover.

In this, the third year of the program, 150 of the nocturnal animals were moved. Last year, 130 were relocated, and 50 in 2008. There will be more next year.

Read more about the San Diego Zoo's program to protect kangaroo rats in Tony Perry's article.

-Margot Roosevelt


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Photo: The San Diego Zoo is relocating the federally protected Stephens' kangaroo rat to the Southwestern Riverside County Multi-Species Reserve. Credit: Ken Bohn/ San Diego Zoo

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Kangaroo rats live in unknown environments in which food availability varies widely in space and time. The ability to hoard food is a vital adaptation. Food-hoarding is facilitated by the presence of external fur-lined cheek pouches that are used to transport food items from the harvest location to the storage site. The fur lining allows for seed transport with minimal water loss.
Two food-hoarding tactics are available to kangaroo rats: larderhoarding and scatterhoarding. The tactic employed varies greatly among species with some species using one tactic to the exclusion of the other and other species employing a combination of the two. Larderhoarding involves storing food items in large quantities at a central location, such as a burrow. Scatterhoarding involves the making of caches (in the form of small subsoil deposits) of food items throughout an individual’s home range. The costs and benefits of these tactics are variable for different species. Larderhoarding provides convenient access to large quantities of food, but the larder may vulnerable to catastrophic loss from competitors. Scatterhoarding may reduce the risk of catastrophic loss, but requires increased energy expenditure, exposure to predation risk and spatial memory. Additionally, competitors may also steal scatterhoards. There is little evidence available to determine what trade-off are involved in the use of one tactic over the other.


LA doesn't have enough sprawl or development. /sarcasm

Love the title of this article as shown on the front page: "Kangaroo Rats Blamed for Construction Halt" -- as if these tiny things that have been around that area for 10's of thousands of years are blatantly sabatoging the construction effort by pulling out the earth-mover's spark plugs.

>>>The Stephens' kangaroo rat, native to Riverside and San Diego counties, has been blamed for halting residential development and freeway construction and increasing the risk of fire because federal law makes it illegal to destroy its habitat.

Wow. This is bad? I say this is all good! Long live the Kangaroo Rat!

Sometimes it's a pain in the butt, but making the little guys go extinct would be worse. The whole world suffers when biodiversity is lost.

You've got to be kidding. The Endangered Species Act has become a joke tool of environmental activists, used to halt nearly any form of development. It should be employed thoughtfully and judiciously, not as a weapon to save every gnat or rodent on Earth.

Those rats are really cute

The Endangered Species Act needs to be abolished. If you lose one species of rat or butterfly, there's 10,000 other species of animals that will take their place. Dinosaurs went extinct, do we miss them?

All species deserve protection!

DON'T TOUCH THE RATS! As a rodent lover myself, I saw we have the resources and ability to make these improvements away from them. We humans are taking over every inch of the world to the point where animals who are trying to be away from predators are being pushed right next to each other. We need to think how can we as humans do what we need to do that benefits both us and the animals in the area.

Hmmm.... I should've read the whole article before commenting....

Kangaroo Rats are cute. I used to study them as field biologist. They have a right to exist... it's an ethical issue.

But lets leave them out of the picture here.

Who says we even need new residential and freeway development after the circus that created far too much residential inventory and commercial real estate sprawl the last decade. We have WAY to much of this stuff. We would be better off redirecting construction to water systems, renewable energy, rail, and a re-deployment of smaller intensive agriculture.

And yes... leave the few remaining Kangaroo rats alone too.

How do you train a mountain lion to pee in a cup ?


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