The San Quentin kangaroo rat was declared critically endangered, or possibly extinct, in 1994 by Mexican authorities after it hadn’t been seen in Baja California, Mexico, in quite some time. Shockingly, twenty-three years after it was declared possibly extinct, biology researchers doing a routine survey of mammals in Baja California discovered four kangaroo rats after they hopped into survey traps.
San Quentin kangaroo rats get their name from their ability to hop, and while they may only be twelve centimeters long (5 inches), they can leap more than 2 meters, at a speed of 10 kilometers per hour (6 mph). They play a key role in the ecosystems of arid areas in western North America, either by being a tasty treat for coyotes and foxes, or by dispersing seeds.
Unfortunately, agriculture took over their home in the 1970’s and their numbers started to decline rapidly after their habitat and food were gone. They were believed to be extinct, and officially classed as critically endangered after their numbers dropped so low. They originally inhabited more than 150 kilometers of Pacific coastline, living in the thousands of coastal valleys.
Nine months ago, a team of researchers set out to Baja California to survey mammals in the area, when four of these adorable creatures hopped into their survey traps. Since the San Quentin kangaroo rat had not been seen in so long, researchers were unsure what they were – having to look into museum specimens and photographs to determine their species. The researchers believe that the decline in farming activity in the area due to drought has enabled the kangaroo rat’s numbers to grow.