Quantcast

Video of Drunken Rampage + $15k Reward = 3 Men Identified as the Culprits for Killing the World's Rarest Fish

Animals

All it takes is one bad decision. And when people have been drinking, there’s ample opportunity.

On April 30, three men broke into Devil’s Hole, an ecologically fragile area of Death Valley National Park. They trashed a pool that serves as the only remaining home for the world’s rarest fish: the Death Valley pupfish.

They trashed a pool that serves as the only remaining home for the world’s rarest fish: the Death Valley pupfish. Photo credit: Olin Feuerbacher / National Wildlife Service

While these charming creatures have no natural predators, they tend to be slow-moving and easygoing—which makes them extremely vulnerable to vandalism. At least one of the fish died while the men trampled their home.

The story behind these tiny fish is fascinating. In addition to their rarity—population numbers fluctuate between 115 in winter and 500 in summer—the Death Valley pupfish were at the center of the first Endangered Species Act-related litigation to go all the way to the Supreme Court.

At issue was a question of water rights, a common dispute in California. In 1976 infuriated developers wanted access to water that environmental activists claimed was critical to the survival of the pupfish. The case set a precedent: when it comes to the Endangered Species Act, the protection of endangered and threatened wildlife will be taken seriously.

Concerned about the potential for retaliatory vandalism, the National Parks Service has fenced off Devil’s Hole, adding cameras to monitor the area. The three men who broke in attempted—and failed—to disable the cameras. Instead, the men ensured that they, along with their vehicle, were caught on film.

The drunken adventure included wading in the pool, clambering around the rocks, firing at least 1 rounds of bullets and tossing beer cans into the desert.

When the men finished, they left behind a pair of boxer shorts, vomit and discarded trash. The National Parks Service swept into gear, publishing stills—and later a full video.

The National Park Service offered a $5,000 reward to anyone who could help identify the culprits. The Center for Biological Diversity later sweetened the deal, upping it to a $15,000 reward. That extra incentive turned out to be enough to entice the public into naming those responsible.

The tipping point, it turned out, was the men’s vehicle, which was extremely distinctive thanks to its unique customizations. While the men hadn’t been arrested as of May 10, the National Parks Service was gathering material to build a case for arrest and prosecution.

Death Valley is an incredibly important and unique natural area, hosting more than 50 types of mammals, more than 300 bird species and a huge variety of fish, reptiles and amphibians. The park’s range of elevations creates distinct bands of habitat in which very unique species thrive, but disruptions to that habitat can prove devastating.

In Devil’s Hole, a truly special spot, trampling and skinny-dipping meant not just disrupting the fish, but also potentially destroying their eggs. If the summer pupfish population dips too low, it will be difficult for the fish to recover through the winter, when a small number of individuals becomes the stock required to keep the species alive.

Incidents like these are a stark reminder of the incredible fragility of so many endangered species. With a little more damage, the men could have wiped out the Death Valley pupfish species forever.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

USDA: Beekeepers Lost 44% of Honey Bee Colonies Last Year

5 Incredible Species That Glow in the Dark

Huge Win for the Oregon Spotted Frog

Jane Goodall Among 58 Scientists Urging Government to Halt Grizzly De-Listing

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A dead sea lion on the beach at Border Field State Park, near the international border wall between San Diego, California and Tijuana, Mexico. Sherry Smith / iStock / Getty Images

While Trump's border wall has yet to be completed, the threat it poses to pollinators is already felt, according to the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, as reported by Transmission & Distribution World.

Read More Show Less
People crossing the Brooklyn Bridge on July 20, 2017 in New York City sought to shield themselves from the sun as the temperature reached 93 degrees. Drew Angerer / Getty Images

by Jordan Davidson

Taking action to stop the mercury from rising is a matter of life and death in the U.S., according to a new study published in the journal Science Advances.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Salmon fry before being released just outside San Francisco Bay. Jim Wilson / The New York Times / Redux

By Alisa Opar

For Chinook salmon, the urge to return home and spawn isn't just strong — it's imperative. And for the first time in more than 65 years, at least 23 fish that migrated as juveniles from California's San Joaquin River and into the Pacific Ocean have heeded that call and returned as adults during the annual spring run.

Read More Show Less
AnnaPustynnikova / iStock / Getty Images

By Kerri-Ann Jennings, MS, RD

Shiitake mushrooms are one of the most popular mushrooms worldwide.

Read More Show Less
Protesters hold a banner and a placard while blocking off the road during a protest against Air pollution in London. Ryan Ashcroft / SOPA Images / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Jessica Corbett

Dozens of students, parents, teachers and professionals joined a Friday protest organized by Extinction Rebellion that temporarily stalled morning rush-hour traffic in London's southeasten borough of Lewisham to push politicians to more boldly address dangerous air pollution across the city.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

Jose A. Bernat Bacete / Moment / Getty Images

By Bridget Shirvell

On a farm in upstate New York, a cheese brand is turning millions of pounds of food scraps into electricity needed to power its on-site businesses. Founded by eight families, each with their own dairy farms, Craigs Creamery doesn't just produce various types of cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss and Muenster cheeses, sold in chunks, slices, shreds and snack bars; they're also committed to becoming a zero-waste operation.

Read More Show Less
Coal ash has contaminated the Vermilion River in Illinois. Eco-Justice Collaborative / CC BY-SA 2.0

By Jessica A. Knoblauch

Summers in the Midwest are great for outdoor activities like growing your garden or cooling off in one of the area's many lakes and streams. But some waters aren't as clean as they should be.

That's in part because coal companies have long buried toxic waste known as coal ash near many of the Midwest's iconic waterways, including Lake Michigan. Though coal ash dumps can leak harmful chemicals like arsenic and cadmium into nearby waters, regulators have done little to address these toxic sites. As a result, the Midwest is now littered with coal ash dumps, with Illinois containing the most leaking sites in the country.

Read More Show Less

picture-alliance / AP Photo / NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center

The Group of 20 major economies agreed a deal to reduce marine pollution at a meeting of their environment ministers on Sunday in Karuizawa, Japan.

Read More Show Less