Habitats of Hope

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Orange-throated whiptail

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The lizard remained still, its tiny heart beating against my thumb as I held it.  A series of thin stripes ran down its back and its tail was a bright, almost neon, blue, indicating that it was a juvenile.  It was strange to think that this lizard I was holding, an orange-throated whiptail, was a species of concern; in just a few years, it could be extinct.  The whiptail began to squirm and I lowered my hand, gently returning it to the chaparral landscape.

Relatively few people know that besides the area open to the public, the San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park also owns 900 acres of undeveloped land, and intends to keep it that way.  Such a habitat has become increasingly rare in San Diego as urbanization threatens the county’s natural biodiversity, the assortment of life within a given ecosystem.  San Diego County, which extends across beaches, deserts, mountains, and everything in between, is what you would call a biodiversity hotspot, where a great deal of variety is contained within a fairly small area.   

Those concerned by the declining rate of biodiversity developed the Multiple Series Conservation Program (MSCP).  California counties and cities decided to set aside land where nature can flourish, unobstructed by humankind, called Multi-Habitat Planning Areas (MHPAs).  The Safari Park’s 900 acres is one such habitat: a habitat of hope.  These MHPAs promise to conserve countless unique plants and animals which would otherwise be facing extinction due to habitat fragmentation and destruction.  It could be argued that we are merely returning a miniscule piece of the land we have taken, yet isn’t that still a step in the proper direction?  If actions speak louder than words, it is clear that conservation is increasing in importance, for cities are actively participating in, as opposed to merely speaking of, the conservation effort.  Perhaps that tiny orange-throated whiptail that felt so fragile in my hand will no longer be part of a dying species, but a revived one, resplendent in its success.

Taylor, Conservation Team