Fort Worth Zoo to Release 1,000th Texas Horned Lizard Into the Wild

Fort Worth Zoo to Release 1,000th Texas Horned Lizard Into the Wild

Texas horned lizards — known around here as horny toads or horned frogs — are the stuff of legend in Fort Worth. The TCU mascot, which supposedly ran rampant on the university’s football field during its early years, used to be more readily found in the wild. Today, it’s listed as a threatened species as humans and modern development take up the creature’s natural habitats. 

That’s why, since 2001, the Fort Worth Zoo has been working to breed and release horned lizards in hopes of protecting the beloved animal from endangerment. 

On Thursday, the zoo hits a milestone as its 1,000th horned lizard runs free into the Mason Mountain Wildlife Management Area, a nature reserve run by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). 

The lizard is one of 100 recently hatched at the zoo, which will join a total of 204 as part of Thursday’s release. The zoo spent Wednesday giving each animal a harmonic radar tag — each baby weighs about a gram and each tag weighs about .01 grams — that will be used to keep track of their whereabouts. 

“A lot of species conservation is enacted when it’s the 11th hour, and there are very few animals left, or they’re federally listed, and there are a lot of limitations to being able to even work with the species from a legal perspective,” says Diane Barber, curator of ectotherms (i.e., cold-blooded animals) at the Fort Worth Zoo. “For us, that’s one of the things we talked about — let’s be proactive with the conservation of the species because we know that they’re declining throughout their range. Let’s figure out how we can bring them back.”

The release comes as wildlife groups wait for Congress to pass the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA), a bipartisan proposal that would give $1.3 billion per year to states and $97.5 million to tribal nations, from existing revenues to fund wildlife conservation, habitat management and restoration, outdoor recreation, and education programs. Of this, Texas would be eligible for more than $50 million per year to implement the Texas Conservation Action Plan and help stabilize the at-risk species in the state.

According to the Texas Alliance for America’s Fish & Wildlife, the bill would be “the most significant investment in wildlife conservation in a generation.”

“It’s money, frankly, to do this kind of work,” says Tom Harvey, communications deputy director at TPWD. “Projects like this are expensive. It takes staff; it takes facilities. This is a very successful pilot effort, but to really scale this up and really move the needle, Texas and the nation really don’t have the conservation funding to do this … [RAWA] would absolutely be a game changer for this little critter.” 

The zoo is planning another horned lizard release in October. Check out the Instagram reel below for a behind-the-scenes peek at the Fort Worth Zoo’s lizard conservation efforts.


Samantha Calimbahin

Samantha Calimbahin is the managing editor at Fort Worth Magazine. When she’s not editing or making to-do lists for the magazine’s gazillion projects, she’s jamming on her guitar and planning her next trip to a Disney theme park.

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September 15, 2021

1:32 PM