Unique Mexican oasis protected

Conservationists have purchased an oasis in the Chihuahuan Desert, assuring the survival of at least 77 species unique to its springs and pools.

US NGO the Nature Conservancy and Mexican environmental group Pronatura announced the purchase of one the best remaining examples of desert springs in North America, the Rancho Pozas Azules (Ranch of the Blue Pools) on 21 November. Although the area is tiny, at only 11 square miles (28 sq km) it includes many endemic species, some of which are only found in one pool, and is one of the largest private land purchases for conservation in Mexico. The property will be permanently protected using a conservation easement, a legal agreement enabling the property to remain under private ownership, and is a first for Northeast Mexico.

The property lies in the Cuatro Ciénegas valley, an area with a desert climate and a relative abundance of surface and subsurface water, which the organisations say, has evolved its unique array of plant and animal life. To date, scientists have discovered 77 endemic species, including at least 15 fish species, half of the valley’s crustaceans, and two-thirds of its freshwater molluscs in the valley. Some species of fish are found only at Rancho Pozas Azules, and some species of snail are found only in a single spring. By many counts, Cuatro Ciénegas, with approximately 200 springs, more than 70 of which lie in the acquired area, has the highest concentration of unique aquatic species in the world, the groups say.

The Mexican Government has already decreed Cuatro Ciénegas as a National Flora and Fauna Reserve, but the conservation groups say that threats to the valley continue. With more than 95% of the area continuing under private ownership, water has been pulled from the pools for agricultural production, and non-native species have been introduced, threatening the unique local plant and animal types. The groups have provided $250,000 each to purchase Rancho Pozas Azules and protect the property. Mexican partners are providing matching support.

“We are working as active partners with the local community in conserving their unique resources, not just outsiders assisting or telling them what to do,” said Ernesto Enkerlin, Executive Director of Pronatura Noreste. “This is the first step in a model that includes a variety of land protection mechanisms and that we plan to replicate in the Chihuahuan Desert ecoregion and other key conservation areas in Mexico.”

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