Pacific Pocket Mouse: Help Is on the Way

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An adult Pacific pocket mouse

Back in 2006, at the beginning of my postdoctoral fellowship with the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, I began a project to translocate the critically endangered Pacific pocket mouse. Like many San Diegans, this pocket-sized mouse lives in Southern California’s coastal zone. It’s actually endemic to the region, meaning that it is found here and nowhere else.

Several years later, I am now our Brown Endowed Scientist in the Institute’s Applied Animal Ecology Division. I have translocated several hundred endangered Stephens’ kangaroo rats over three years but have yet to translocate a single pocket mouse. I learned a great deal about the species by studying them in the wild at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, but our trapping efforts indicated that there were simply too few remaining in the wild to risk translocation.

Because of the status of the species, we have decided that we have reached that critical point with Pacific pocket mice where removal of individuals from the wild to establish a conservation-breeding program is necessary. The regulatory agencies and land managers have agreed, and we have secured funding to begin to breed this adorable mini-mouse in managed care. We have a lot of work ahead of us but are excited about facilitating recovery of the Pacific pocket mouse (PPM).

First, we have to design a facility for the species, which will be located on grounds but off exhibit at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. In 2012, we will bring founders into the facility and begin behavioral experiments to better understand the species and, yes, hopefully, to breed them and produce lots of babies! We hope to grow the captive population to as many as 200 individuals and begin releasing groups of 50 annually. My valuable senior research tech, Maryke Swartz, and new graduate student, Rachel Chock, and I will be the core Pocket Mouse Team.

We will keep you updated on the status of the program and our journey as we attempt to use science and the Zoo’s longstanding “know how” to recover this critically endangered species.

Debra Shier is the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research Brown Endowed Scientist. Read her previous post, Kangaroo Rats Dig Mountain Lions!