TYLER — Caldwell Zoo in Tyler recently celebrated the release of Texas Horned Lizards into their native, wild habitat.
It took years of development and months of preparation before the zoo amphibian and reptile experts were able to successfully add to the wild population of threatened Texas Horned Lizards, commonly known as the horned toad, according to information from the zoo.
Yvonne Stainback, curator of birds and reptiles, and Dallas Goodwin, reptiles keeper, traveled across Texas to Mason Mountain Wildlife Management Area to join other colleagues as a part of the horned toad conservation effort.
Along with experts from the Caldwell Zoo, cohorts from the Dallas Zoo, Fort Worth Zoo and Fossil Rim Wildlife Center also participated in the program championed by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to save the lizard.
The horned toad once was widespread across the state and much of the southern United States. Because of habitat loss and invasive fire ant expansion, the once common lizard has become rare.
“The horned lizard, or horny toad, is really an amazing species,” said Nathan Rains, wildlife diversity biologist for Texas Parks and Wildlife. “It truly is an icon of the state.
“I’ve talked with so many people who have told me how they used to see them all the time when they were kids. But recently, the wild populations have gotten dangerously low, so we invited expert institutions to join in a breeding program to save the species.”
Caldwell Zoo was among institutions asked to breed horned toads in carefully planned programs in order to produce offspring that could be released back into the wild, according to the zoo.
“When we heard about the program, we jumped at the chance to help,” Stainback said. “It takes a lot of work, some serious resources and an immense amount of teamwork, but it’s definitely worth it.”
The Caldwell Zoo joined the program three years ago and has seen strong results, the zoo reported. This year, 18 hatchlings were released by Stainback and Goodwin at the protected wildlife area. In conjunction with other institutions, this year marks the release of 1,000 horned toads back into the wild.
Thanks to specially adapted radio technology, the team can monitor and track the captive-bred horned toads.
“The hatchlings are released with tiny radio tags,” Goodwin said. “This means that they can be tracked, and we can see survival rates. This year we found one of our hatchlings from last year who had grown to a big, strong adult. It proves that the program is working.”