Goodbye to the Horny Toad? A Postcard from Kenedy, Texas

texas horned lizard

After wresting a semblance of its formerly wild self from the shop-lined canals and flood-control channels of the Alamo City, the San Antonio River winds its way through 60 miles of gently rolling brush country before reaching a “spot of entrancing beauty.”

In the center of Karnes County—known best for its sprawling ranches, uranium mines and, increasingly, hydraulic fracturing operations—Cibolo Creek begins augmenting the San Antonio’s flow. “The clear running waters of these two streams and their tributaries, surrounded by fertile soils, were the grazing grounds of the buffalo, deer, and other wild quadrupeds,” Helmuth H. Schuenemann, homemade historian and former state representative, wrote in 1954.

Schuenemann’s unnamed “wild quadrupeds” probably didn’t include the likes of “Little Stumpy,” a three-legged Texas horned lizard with a scarred-over gash across her face. “I’m sure she met a terrible fate with either a weed whacker or a lawn mower,” said Saundra Schultz, a woman known by many in these parts as “the fish lady,” thanks to the exotic fish business she once operated out of her home.

—At almost any other time in history, Stumpy would have been just one of a million: unnoticed, unscarred and almost certainly unnamed. But in the early 2000s, residents here were at the zenith of their lizard awareness. In 2001, the 77th Texas Legislature—inspired by reports of the capture and relocation of nearly 100 official state reptiles from a single town lot—proclaimed Kenedy, just a few miles south of Schuenemann’s bucolic riverine juncture, the Horned Lizard Capital of Texas. Local leaders had already declared their home the Horned Lizard Capital of the World a year earlier and begun promoting the long-overlooked resource. An annual Horny Toad Fun Days celebration seemed an improvement over the flagging flax festival. A Horned Toad Club started educating locals and visitors alike about the threatened Texas horned lizard. Walking tours of lizard hotspots were inaugurated.

(As with so much in the New World, Europeans were perplexed by the lizard. The round and spiny creatures that hunted with a frog-like tongue flick seemed a biological mish-mash. They were not quick like other lizards. Presumed venomous by early settlers due to their monstrous arrangement of spines and the oversized horns on their heads, the easily caught and mild-tempered animals are mistakenly called frogs or toads to this day.)

It was in the context of Kenedy’s enthusiastic embrace that the injured Stumpy had been delivered to Saundra Schultz and nursed back to health to live out her days in her rescuer’s backyard. Two years ago, however, Stumpy disappeared. So had all the frogs and toads behind Schultz’s house. By most accounts the lizards began disappearing from Kenedy between 2006 and 2008. By 2010 they were virtually gone. “I have not seen a horned toad at my house or downtown in two years. I don’t know what happened,” Schultz said. “I hope we didn’t love them to death.”

(Read the Full Story at the Texas Observer.)

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