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Extremely Rare Fish Dead After Men Trespassed and Vandalized Devils Hole in Death Valley Park

May 12, 2016 11:37 AM EDT
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An extremely rare and endangered Devils Hole pupfish was found dead after three men trespassed and vandalized the Devils Hole in the Death Valley National Park.

The National Park Service has released a statement on the matter recently, saying that a multi-agency investigation has led to three men identified as responsible for the April 30 crime.

The investigation revealed that the men responsible rode a highly customized blue Yamaha Rhino. Once in the restricted area, they shot a shotgun at least 10 times on gate locks, signs and security systems. The men damaged scientific monitoring equipment but were not able to completely destroy the security cameras that filmed the crime scene.

One of the men swam in the Devils Hole, a geothermal pool that is the only naturally occurring habitat of the Devils Hole pupfish. The pupfish camera installed underwater showed feet wading in the shallow shelf, unsettling the sediments and disrupting the ecosystem for the fish, which has no known natural predators.

The three men left beer cans, vomit and a pair of boxer shorts in the scene.

Park employees found one dead pupfish floating in the water. The cause of its death is still unknown, but an initial evaluation indicated that the pupfish died during the men's trespass to its habitat.

The Devils Hole is a detached unit of the Death Valley National Park in California and the only natural habitat of the Devils Hole pupfish, or Cyprinodon diabolis. Los Angeles Times reported that the extremely rare fish grow only 1 1/2 inch long and are slow-moving and docile.

The Devils Hole pupfish is an ancient creature, and has been isolated to 10,000 to 20,000 years in the spring, NBC Los Angeles reported. A recent count revealed that there are only 115 left in the habitat.

The months of April through May are their peak spawning months, so it is possible that the intruder also crushed their eggs on the shelf.

Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity said the species, which is listed on the IUCN Red List, has been on the brink of extinction for years. "The last thing they need are these idiots running amok in the last place on Earth where they still survive," she said in the same report.

A reward of $15,000 has been offered for the men's arrest and conviction. Anyone with information is encouraged to call the park investigators at 888-653-0009.

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