The Morro Bay kangaroo rat Dipodomys heermanni morroensis is a small, nocturnal, burrowing rodent endemic to the vicinity of Morro Bay in San Luis Obispo County, California. It was listed as endangered pursuant to the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 1973. Despite many searches over three decades, the Morro Bay kangaroo rat has not been captured or sighted in the wild since 1986. While recognizing that the Morro Bay kangaroo rat may be extinct, Kofron and Villablanca (2016) also speculated it may be persisting at extremely low density in isolated colonies, and they recommended surveying with wildlife scent-detection dogs and baited camera traps. We searched with a wildlife scent-detection dog and baited camera traps in four historically-occupied areas and detected no Morro Bay kangaroo rats. Unfortunately our data combined with all other existing data do not allow us to conclude whether the Morro Bay kangaroo rat is extinct or extant. Essentially, the international standard has not been met to make a definitive determination of extinction. That is, a species should be considered extinct only when there is no reasonable doubt that the last individual has died (International Union for the Conservation of Nature 2012). We acknowledge that because of resource limitation we surveyed only a small sample of the numerous patches of habitat in the expansive landscape. Further, we now consider the Morro Bay sand spit (total area 4.35 km2, foredunes 3.75 km2), a peripheral area, as potentially part of the geographic range with suitable habitat, and it has never been searched. Therefore, considering all available information, we conclude that the Morro Bay kangaroo rat must be considered as possibly extant. We recommend that search efforts continue in several specific areas, including the Morro Bay sand spit. If the Morro Bay kangaroo still exists, it will be challenging and difficult to rediscover because of its likely low density and patchy distribution in the expansive landscape, combined with its small size, nocturnal nature, and secretive lifestyle.
Survey for Morro Bay Kangaroo Rat: A Rare Mammal of Uncertain Status
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Francis X. Villablanca, Christopher P. Kofron, Lauralea Oliver, Michael J. Walgren, Lisa E. Andreano, Alexandra Thiel; Survey for Morro Bay Kangaroo Rat: A Rare Mammal of Uncertain Status. Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management doi: https://doi.org/10.3996/JFWM-20-022
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