Defenders Magazine

Winter 2018

Volume 93, Issue 2


Ocelot, © Joel Sartore/

Silver tresses of Spanish moss sway beneath a mesquite tree’s thorny crown on a breezy August afternoon along the Texas border in Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. The chatter of an Altamira oriole and a great kiskadee fills the air, plain chachalacas search for seeds in the leaves, and black-crested titmice feast on hackberry fruit. Presiding over it all is the Rio Grande. In the dry season, when the sky withholds and the river withdraws, these birds know how to persevere, having lived in relationship with this land through the ages. But for all species there is a breaking point, a culmination of challenges that exceeds an animal’s ability to adapt. Such a challenge may soon present itself at Santa Ana—and to all the wildlife along the entire U.S.-Mexico border. Early last year, the Department of Homeland Security began planning construction of a border wall through the northern third of the refuge, which, if built, would bisect the largest remaining remnant of a globally rare ecosystem and isolate much of the 2,000-acre preserve on the Mexican side of the border barrier. “Santa Ana is a real jewel of the refuge system,” says Ken Merritt, former manager of the South Texas Refuge Complex. “It’s about the worst place you could put up a wall.” And this precious gem of a refuge is just the beginning. President Donald Trump has vowed to expand wall construction across the entire 2,000-mile border, dividing ecosystems and human communities, amputating the North American landscape at its knees.


Dunes Sagebrush Lizard, Photo: USFWS
Defenders uses satellite imagery to pinpoint habitat destruction
Orcas, Photo: NOAA Fisheries/Candice Emmons
Compromised by pollution, reproduction success lags
Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, © P. Bannick/Vireo
Imperiled by habitat loss from development and livestock grazing, these now-rare owls do not migrate but reside year-round along rivers and deserts dominated by mesquite thickets, cactuses and low stands of live oak in what remains of their habitat near the Mexican border in Arizona and Texas.