“Some see the glass as half empty, and some see it as half full. Conservationists see the glass as too big.”
I chuckled when I read that quote recently in a profile of John Karges, the peerless Texas naturalist and wildlife biologist.
Clever aphorisms aside, optimism and conservation can often be difficult to reconcile. It’s pretty easy to focus on the bad news — there’s certainly enough of it to go around. And sometimes, even the good news isn’t all…well, good.
For the past few weeks, biologists from The Nature Conservancy and partner organizations have been combing the dusty Texas countryside, rustling bushes and turning over rocks in search of the now-scarce spot-tailed earless lizard. Bolstered by a corps of hearty volunteers, they’re searching the reptile’s historic range to answer some very basic questions about a species that was once commonly found in more than 40 Texas counties: how many are left, where are they…and what happened to the rest?
A few days ago, Mike Duran, the Conservancy vertebrate zoologist spearheading the search, located a lizard in southern Irion County, not far from the waters of the middle Concho River. What seemed to me to be great news — we found one! — was quickly put into perspective by Mike, who could muster little more than disappointment at his own discovery. He pointed out that this lizard came from an extant population that was already well-known, and that the photos we started with actually came from this very population.
If anything, the search for this elusive lizard illustrates that, for conservationists working in the field, disappointments abound. It has to be tough to lace up your boots every morning knowing you’re not likely to find what you’re looking for.
But guys like Mike keep doing it. He still has plenty of ground to cover and plenty of rocks to turn over, and there are bound to be spot-tailed earless lizards hiding under a few of them. And either way, it’s all part of his job. He knows that a search yielding no lizards provides scientific data as significant to our work as a search that turns up thousands. That data may not translate to good news, but, well, sometimes the glass really is half-empty.
(Image: Spot-tailed earless lizard. Credit: Mike Duran/TNC. )