The horny toad man : a battle against time and looming public apathy to save Texas’ most iconic reptile
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Bill Brooks is worried about the future of his organization, perhaps even more than he is about the future of horned lizards. Brooks is the president and a founding member of the Horned Lizard Conservation Society, a nonprofit with the goal of protecting all species of horned lizard. The HLCS was founded in Austin in 1991, after its members realized that populations of Texas horned lizards, Phrynosoma cornutum, had crashed at some point in the preceding decades; they wanted to both figure out what had happened to the lizards and how to bring them back. Cornutum is an iconic species and the state reptile, and almost all Texans over the age of 40 can remember seeing them in the hundreds as children. Flash-forward a quarter of a century, and a lot of these founding members are either old and grey or deceased. HLCS membership is down, and Brooks thinks that if there aren’t any of his kind left (Texans that grew up with “horny toads”), there’ll be no one left to care. Herpetologists are working on returning healthy horned lizard populations to the wild, and both reintroduction and relocation programs are showing signs of success. But can they work, and will it be too late for Brooks’ organization and a Texas identity dependent upon horned lizards?