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Recent findings of critically endangered species in Death Valley raise hopes about conservation efforts: 'It was really encouraging to see such a large number'

"It's exciting to see an increasing trend, especially in this highly variable population."

"It's exciting to see an increasing trend, especially in this highly variable population."

Photo Credit: iStock

In Death Valley, life is finding a way, thanks in part to legislative efforts to protect a rare animal.

As detailed by SFGate, scientists counted 191 of the critically endangered Devils Hole pupfish at the national park this spring, the highest number observed in the past 25 years. 

This comes after the National Park Service announced in April 2022 that it had found 175 pupfish, a 22-year record high at the time. 

"It's exciting to see an increasing trend, especially in this highly variable population," U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service senior fish biologist Michael Schwemm said in an NPS news release. "... We're excited about the future directions with respect [to] managing this species."

Experts haven't pinpointed the cause of the pupfish's decline, according to SFGate, but the news outlet broke down various factors that have likely impacted its survival, citing previous reporting by the Los Angeles Times and High Country News.  

In part, ranchers used to siphon water from Devils Hole, which reduced water levels, as the Times noted, per SFGate. A dispute over groundwater management led to a contentious battle that resulted in a 1976 Supreme Court decision to protect the hole and its inhabitants. 

Overuse of resources causing habitat loss has resulted in the decline of creatures around the world. In this case, a lack of respect for the rules limiting access to the area also appears to have been a factor. 

While the park finally installed surveillance cameras and a fence to discourage trespassers, SFGate noted that three drunk campers encroached upon the area in 2016, with one of the men ultimately destroying pupfish larvae and eggs during the peak of the reproductive season. 

Now, researchers believe the rebounding numbers of pupfish is a positive sign for Devils Hole, which the NPS noted can experience sloshing water after earthquakes in places like Japan, Indonesia, and Chile — a phenomenon that may also impact the pupfish. 

When rains linked to Hurricane Hilary hit Death Valley in August 2023, causing flooding and closure of the park, some feared that the pupfish may have been harmed. However, SFGate reported that the storm may have actually helped distribute vital nutrients. 

Researchers will continue to collect more data. According to the NPS, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Nevada Department of Wildlife, and NPS staff share responsibility for the Devils Hole pupfish. 

"It was really encouraging to see such a large number of young fish during these spring dives. Conditions within Devils Hole looked healthy, so we have hopes of high recruitment over the coming months that will lead to a large population in the fall," Nevada Department of Wildlife supervising fisheries biologist Brandon Senger said in the NPS press release.

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