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Kangaroo rats: barrier to development or species worth saving?

October 10, 2010 | 10:14 pm

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