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Very Rare Mammal: Amargosa Vole in California Scores Ranch Habitat

Jan 05, 2016 05:54 PM EST
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Amargosa vole
The Amargosa vole has a very specific, 247-acre habitat on oases in California's Mojave desert. It is considered one of North America's rarest mammals. A new area of habitat was recently opened to it.
(Photo : Don Priesler at University of California Davis)

Near California's Death Valley, a small, furry rodent with a white beard, the Amargosa vole, lives in a very particular habitat that consists of a mere 247 acres. These are watery oases and forest in the Mojave desert, 90 miles west of Las Vegas. The voles are one of North America's most endangered mammals.

One landowner in the area town of Shoshone, Susan Sorrells, knew the voles were on her land and has welcomed them. Recently, workers and volunteers cleared about an acre of rambly marshland there, tearing out a 12-foot-tall cattail thicket and trimming back wizened mesquites, salt cedars and the scrubby flowering bush, arrowweed, according to a recent article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal

Part of the organizing is being done by the Amargosa Conservancy, a preservation group that Sorrells helped launch. In the spring, the group's crew will replant the area, which is fed by a spring, with a native grass that stays green in deep summer heat and is loved by the voles for shelter, food and breeding area. It is called three-square bulrush. Assuming the bulrush thrives, several voles born in captivity will be released in the new acre of habitat by spring 2017, said the Review-Journal article.

"It's a grand experiment, and I'm just really excited about it," Sorrells said in the article. 

Some federal estimates say perhaps 150 Amargosa voles exist in the wild.

"That's vastly fewer than almost any other endangered species that's in emergency status," said Janet Foley, a veterinary professor at the University of California Davis, in the article.

Several groups are working to try to revive the species, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, Bureau of Land Management, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, UC-Davis, the University of California Berkeley and the Amargosa Conservancy.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

-Follow Catherine on Twitter @TreesWhales

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