50 Texas horned lizards born at San Antonio Zoo released to wild

Zoo is using poop, dogs to track previously released horny toads

SAN ANTONIO – Texas horned lizards that hatched at the San Antonio Zoo’s Center for Conservation and Research this summer have been released into the wild.

The zoo announced that 50 horny toads were released on Wednesday amid an effort to restore the population of the beloved species. Some of the horned lizards released this week were born on June 18, on Texas Horned Lizard Day.

Zoo officials stated that the horned lizards were checked by lead veterinarian Dr. Rob Coke before they were released. Their genetics were also documented so they could later be tracked by their poop, also referred to as scat.

Previous releases were held in 2021 and 2020, and the CCR found evidence of their scat at the site of the release this week.

“This is our 3rd release, and we have seen evidence after each effort that lizards are alive and thriving on the landscape,” Dr. Andy Gluesenkamp, the director of the Center for Conservation & Research at San Antonio Zoo, said in the release.

“Something I love about this project is not only helping the Texas Horned Lizard but also being able to provide this opportunity to others. We had volunteers, landowners, and naturalists join us on this release, and seeing their participation and excitement is priceless.”

Gluesenkamp said horned lizards are tracked by their scat because they are naturally “incredibly elusive.”

By documenting their genetics and scat, Glusenkamp said, they can track their travels.

The scat retrieved this week was sent to Dr. Dean Williams at Texas Christian University for analysis.

“Genotyping their scat acts as a fingerprint and allows us to connect the findings to our database, which then tells how old the lizard is and how far they have traveled,” Gluesenkamp said. “Eventually, we will be genotyping wild offspring and identifying which zoo lizards are reproducing.”

The zoo stated that the center partners with the Chiron K9, the Texas Horned Lizard Detection Canine Network, to use dogs to trace the horny toads.

The Texas horned lizard is currently listed as threatened in the state, and the Texas Horned Lizard Reintroduction Project is focused on bolstering their survival.

“God Bless Texas - what an incredible week it has been for our beloved Texas Horned Lizard,” Tim Morrow, the president & CEO of San Antonio Zoo, said in the release. “Dr. Gluesenkamp and his team at the Center for Conservation & Research continue to work tirelessly on this project, and we are so proud to see their work making a difference to the landscape of Texas. I hope you all join us in congratulating our conservation team and cheering on all the horny toads released back into the Texas wild this week.”

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Rebecca Salinas has worked in digital news for more than 10 years and joined KSAT in 2019. She reports on a variety of topics for KSAT 12 News.