On Wednesday, the Center for Conservation and Research (CCR) at San Antonio Zoo re-leased 50 zoo-hatched Texas Horned Lizards (horny toads) into the wild. Lead veterinarian Dr. Rob Coke performed a health inspection earlier this week before the young lizards were introduced to their new home. While all the horny toads released hatched this summer, a clutch of them was born on June 18, Texas Horned Lizard Day. The release into the wild is a tremendous step forward for San Antonio Zoo’s Texas Horned Lizard Reintroduction Project, which will bolster the survival of their species here in South Texas.
“This is our 3rd release, and we have seen evidence after each effort that lizards are alive and thriving on the landscape,” said Dr. Andy Gluesenkamp, Director of the Center for Conservation & Research at San Antonio Zoo. “Something I love about this project is not only helping the Texas Horned Lizard but also being able to provide this opportunity to others. We had volunteers, landowners, and naturalists join us on this release, and seeing their participation and excitement is priceless.”
In addition to releasing Texas Horned Lizards into the wild, CCR at San Antonio Zoo also monitored for lizards from previous releases. The team found scat (poop) in two different areas within the release project area, where releases were also conducted in 2020 and 2021. The scat was sent to Dr. Dean Williams at Texas Christian University for genetic analysis.
“Texas Horned Lizards are in-credibly elusive,” said Dr. Andy Gluesenkamp. “It is easier to find their scat, which can tell us a lot about the individual. Before release, we document each lizard’s genetics and then connect GPS coordinates to each Texas Horned Lizards release site. Genotyping their scat acts as a fingerprint and allows us to connect the findings to our database, which then tells how old the lizard is and how far they have traveled. Eventually, we will be genotyping wild offspring and identifying which zoo lizards are reproducing.”
Through a partnership with Chiron K9, known as the Texas Horned Lizard Detection Canine Network, San Antonio Zoo utilizes dogs trained with live horned lizards, scat, eggs, and shed skin so that they may detect any traces of horned lizards in the field.
“God Bless Texas – what an incredible week it has been for our beloved Texas Horned Lizard,” said Tim Morrow, President & CEO of San Antonio Zoo. “Dr. Gluesenkamp and his team at the Center for Conservation & Research continue to work tirelessly on this project, and we are so proud to see their work making a difference to the landscape of Texas. I hope you all join us in congratulating our conservation team and cheering on all the horny toads released back into the Texas wild this week.”
This week’s release is made possible by collaboration among researchers, San Antonio Zoo, landowners, conservation organizations, individual naturalists, donors, and funding organizations. The Texas Horned Lizard Reintroduction Project through CCR at San Antonio Zoo is funded mainly by zoo ticket sales, donations, grants, and Texas Parks and Wildlife. In addition to the Texas Horned Lizard Reintroduction Project, Fort Worth Zoo and Dallas Zoo are working with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department on releases in Wildlife Management Areas. All institutions involved share information and support one an-other through the Texas Horned Lizard Conservation Coalition.
To learn more and support the Texas Horned Lizard Reintroduction Project and all of the efforts from the Center for Conservation and Research at San Antonio Zoo, visit https://sazoo.org/zoo-conservation-efforts/.