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Friends of South Texas Refuges Newsletter -- Summer 2009

Friends of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge
Friends of the Wildlife Corridor
Summer 2009


The following is a joint newsletter by the Friends of the Wildlife Corridor and
Friends of Laguna Atascosa NWR. Together, these two organizations support
three national wildlife refuges in South Texas,
Santa Ana, Lower Rio Grande Valley and Laguna Atascosa.
Become a member today!

Message from the President, Friends of Laguna Atascosa NWR
Shane Wilson

This year has been a really exciting one for the Friends of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge (FLA). The organization has made great progress in many areas.

For starters, we had a great Ocelot Conservation Festival. We had approximately 2,500 attendees who came from 200 cities, as well as 40 states and Canada. Of the 2,500, an estimated 1,300 came for the first time and approximately 1,500 were able to watch the ocelot program, which included a live ocelot from the Cincinnati Zoo. Sihil, the young female ocelot, did an excellent job of highlighting the species' survival skills and tremendous personality. Overall, the festival generated about $12,500, all of which goes toward ocelot research and habitat protection/restoration. A special thanks has to go to Board Members Madeleine Sandefur and Cate Ball who really stepped up and helped make the festival such a success. And it certainly would not have been possible without the 120 volunteers who helped that day.

This year the FLA also began operating a nature tram at the Refuge. With the help of volunteers, the seasonal tram (Nov-March) initially departed twice a day, two days a week. It proved to be so popular the Refuge began running it twice a day, four days a week. We are currently making plans for a ‘Full Moon Tram', which we hope to inaugurate the 4th of July weekend. Check the Tram Ride page of the website for more details about this upcoming and exciting chance to experience the Refuge by moonlight.

If you haven't had a chance to visit the Nature Store, make it a point to stop by next time you are at the Refuge. The FLA hired a new Nature Store Manager, Paul Cardile, last fall and he has done a great job of getting new inventory, including some great field guides and fun, educational items for children. Remember, all of the Nature Store money goes to benefit Refuge projects.

Many thanks to the new Board members who have worked hard to get the Friends business in good order. They are Cate Ball (Vice President), Laura De La Garza (Treasurer), Tom deMaar, Keith Hackland, Sonia Najera, Larry Pool, Madeleine Sandefur (Secretary) and Bob Severson.

Message from the President, Friends of the Wildlife Corridor
Keith Hackland

One of our most exciting accomplishments of this past year has been the creation of the new Friends of South Texas Refuges website. If you are reading this electronic newsletter, you've obviously already found it at We were able to create it with the help of the City of Alamo, Alamo Economic Development Corporation and the Alamo Chamber of Commerce, who helped pay entirely for the creation of the site. It has generated new memberships for both Friends groups and because of it we have gotten interest in the Adopt An Ocelot program from as far as Pennsylvania. Please help us promote South Texas' three National Wildlife Refuges and both Friends groups by sharing this site with your friends and/or by linking it to your own site.

This past winter FWC Board members (John McClung, Martin Hagne and Robert Diaz de Leon) traveled to DC to lobby for land acquisition money. They were joined by Friends of Laguna Atascosa NWR Board member Laura de la Garza. They were able to meet most of the South Texas Congressional delegation and/or their staff, including Congressman Ortiz, Congressman Hinojosa, Congressman Henry Cuellar, Congressman Ciro Rodriguez, Congressman John Granger and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. They requested $7.5M in funding for land acquisition.

Sadly the Friends of the Wildlife Corridor (FWC) lost two great supporters of our organization who have moved on to greener pastures. We will greatly miss Mike and Marea Carlo, who recently moved to Washington, DC for a promotion. Fortunately we were able to find someone to take over the operations of Santa Ana and Roma Bluffs World Birding Center's Nature Stores. Rosie Heavin of Hidalgo has taken on the new position and is working hard to learn all that she can before the busy fall season hits. She is going to be a real asset to the FWC and we look forward to working with her.

Thanks to all of the Friends members for their continuing support. Please continue to do so by renewing your membership today. You can now join on line!

Ocelot Kitten Documented on Laguna Atascosa NWR
The first ocelot kitten documented on the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) since 1997 was photographed this past winter with the help of a trip camera. At the time the photo was taken, biologists estimated the kitten was three to six months old. Other kittens have been born on the Refuge since the late nineties but this is the first time a female ocelot and her kitten have been photographed together. This is also the youngest ocelot documented since 1997 when a lone kitten was found in a den on the Laguna Atascosa NWR.

The female who gave birth to the kitten, Esperanza, lives on the Laguna Atascosa NWR and is estimated to be three to four years old. She was first captured in 2008 when biologists weighed and measured her, vaccinated her for rabies, inserted a micro-chip, fitted her with a radio-collar, then released her. Since that time, her movements on the Refuge have been monitored by staff.

The Laguna Atascosa NWR has the largest known population of breeding ocelots left in the United States and trip cameras are a common tool used by biologists to gather data on and study the highly endangered cat. The trip cameras used were purchased by the Friends of Laguna Atascosa NWR, who used funds raised through the Adopt An Ocelot program and the Ocelot Conservation Festival.

An endangered species in the United States, ocelots used to range from South Texas up into Arkansas and Louisiana. Today, biologists estimate that fewer than 50 of these small jaguar-like cats are to be left in the United States, all of which are found in deep South Texas. Ocelots are endangered for various reasons, including loss of habitat, habitat fragmentation and cars. In the last 75 years, more than 95% of the native brush in the lower Rio Grande Valley of South Texas has been cleared. The small amount of habitat that does remain is fragmented, broken up into many, smaller tracts. These small, fragmented tracts of land cannot sustain large populations of ocelot and the young cats have a difficult time finding suitable habitat to establish their own territory. When the young ocelots must finally venture out to establish their own territories, they have to cross many highways and roads and are often hit by cars. Nearly half of the ocelots studied on the Laguna Atascosa NWR that have died were hit by a moving vehicle.

More recent images of the kitten indicate he is a male. He is apparently still lingering in his mother's range but will soon have to venture out to establish his own territory, which will be a very dangerous time for him.

While the outlook for ocelots is uncertain the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and both Friends groups are doing all they can to make sure there will always be ocelots on the South Texas landscape. Partnership efforts with Mexico, planning wildlife crossing with the Texas Department of Transportation, developing conservation easements with private landowners, conducting educational programs with school children and Ocelot Conservation Festivals are just a few of the efforts toward protecting ocelots.

Please do your part to protect ocelots. Adopt An Ocelot as a gift for someone. Attend the Ocelot Festival. For $50, become a member of both Friends groups. Write your legislator and ask them to support the National Wildlife Refuge System, South Texas' Refuges in particular.

To learn more about Esperanza, visit the Adopt An Ocelot program or call the Friends of Laguna Atascosa NWR at (956)748-3607. All monies raised through the Adopt An Ocelot program are strictly used for the benefit of this highly endangered animal.

Beach-goers Asked to Watch For and Report Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtles
Visitors to South Padre Island and Boca Chica are asked to help protect sea turtles by reporting nesting females, maintaining the 15 mph speed limit and not littering South Texas beaches. Kemp's ridley sea turtles are nearly half way through their four-month nesting season, the time they come ashore to lay eggs on the Island's warm tropical sands.

As of today (June 9), 35 Kemp's ridley sea turtles have been documented nesting on the beaches of South Texas, including 26 on South Padre Island and nine on Boca Chica. When the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (Service) and Sea Turtle, Inc. (STI) first began this project in 1999, two nests were identified and protected. This year, it is projected that more than 50 nests will be protected.

Visitors who find a nesting sea turtle should immediately contact the Service at 956-784-7520 or STI at 956-761-4511. Please do not touch or disturb the turtles and be sure to protect them from passing traffic and disturbances until help arrives.

The Kemp's ridley sea turtle is considered the most endangered sea turtle in the world and is protected by state and federal law. The primary cause for their near extinction included the heavy commercial harvesting of their eggs up until the 1960's. Because these sea turtles do not reach sexual maturity until about age 12-15, recovery of the species has been slow.

To help bring Kemp's ridley sea turtles back, the Service and STI have been collecting eggs and transporting them to a protected area of the beach where they are reburied. Upon hatching, the young sea turtles are released on the beaches under the protective eye of biologists, volunteers and the general public. Predators such as birds, crabs, feral cats and dogs, and vehicles are all potential threats to the turtles as they make their way to the water. Although a female can lay more than 100 eggs, only one or two hatchlings will actually survive to maturity.

Because the recovery of the sea turtle is gaining momentum, it is especially important that visitors to our beaches pay close attention and help in the protection and restoration of this south Texas native. Last year two nesting females were run over and killed by fast-driving vehicles on the beach.

To increase awareness and hopefully prevent other turtles from being run over, the Friends of the Wildlife Corridor and the Friends of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge paid for the production of Public Service Announcements reminding the public to help protect sea turtles. The PSA's were produced by Richard Moore and include footage of nesting sea turtles. The :30 and :15 PSAs are in English and Spanish and will air on both television and radio.

Please help protect sea turtles by driving slowly on the beach (drive only on the hard-packed sand), taking your trash out with you, and immediately reporting nesting females and hatchlings to STI or the Service.

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Contact the Friends

Friends of the Wildlife Corridor Friends of Laguna Atascosa NWR
Rt. 2 Box 204 22817 Ocelot Road
Alamo, TX 78516 Los Fresnos, TX 78566

Cover Photo: Esperanza and her kitten


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