The U.S.–Mexico border traverses deserts and forests, mountains and canyons, rivers and floodplains, and coastal beaches and waters. This terrain is the home of thousands of species; as a matter of fact, the border region is one of the most biodiverse places in North America.
The boundary we’ve drawn across the continent cuts through numerous wild pathways, and one of the many reasons Trump’s wall is a terrible ideais the harm it will cause to plants, animals and ecosystems.
We’ve witnessed the adverse effects on wildlife from the barriers already in place along several hundred miles of the 2,000-mile-long border. If the wall of Trump’s paranoid imagination comes to pass — impregnable, high and unbroken — many more species will be affected, including the ones listed below.
1. Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
The tiny cactus ferruginous pygmy owl can fit in your hand, but that doesn’t stop it from being a ferocious predator of small rodents, lizards, frogs, insects, earthworms and even other birds. It lives in saguaro and organ pipe cacti and ironwood, mesquite and acacia trees, and is at risk of extinction in both the United States and Mexico.
Low-flying pygmy owls hew close to the Earth; their flights, on average, are only about 4.5 feet above the ground. Biologists have determined that if a wall as high as the one Trump is selling us is built — 50 feet tall — these birds will find their paths impeded, encountering another barrier to their recovery in Arizona and Mexico.
We tend to imagine jaguars in a tropical habitat of rainforest, but they roamed the deserts, mountains and grasslands of the Southwest for thousands of years until they were hunted almost to extinction in the United States in the 20th century. But now they’re slowly returning from Mexico. In the past few years, two new jaguars have been spotted via remote cameras in the Santa Rita and Huachuca mountains.
More jaguars will certainly make the trek across the border to reclaim their historic territory in Arizona — as long as their migration is not impeded by an impenetrable wall.
Photo of ocelot by wcdumonts/Flickr.
Its spotted coat and striking face make the ocelot one of the prettiest kitties in the world. But beauty unfortunately contributed to the decline of this mid-sized cat, which was rapaciously hunted for its pelts until it was protected in the 1980s. Now ocelots face threats from habitat degradation, poaching and other forms of human interference. They once lived in Texas, Arizona, Louisiana, and Arkansas, but only about 30 individuals now survive in the country, although they are still widely distributed across south and central Mexico.
Ocelots, which require about seven miles of dense, thorny vegetation for hunting, have been threatened by the existing border construction, and Trump’s wall would be yet another factor pushing them across the threshold of U.S. extinction.
4. Peninsular Desert Bighorn Sheep
Photo of desert bighorn sheep by chriswegg/Flickr.
Peninsular desert bighorn sheep live on dry, rocky, low-elevation desert slopes, canyons and washes, from Palm Springs, California south into Baja California, Mexico. They migrate through their range, returning to the same lambing areas annually.
Desert bighorn sheep are uniquely adapted to their dry, hot habitat. They get water from cacti, splitting open spiny barrel cactus with their horns to feast on the watery insides. But due to sprawl and agribusiness, both sheep and succulent are increasingly rare.
In 2000 the species was protected under the Endangered Species Act. These protections have allowed them to double their numbers, but with fewer than 1,000 individuals alive at last count, their hold on existence remains fragile. Research shows that an impermeable border wall would isolate sheep populations, potentially reducing their genetic diversity.
Photo of javelina by Larry Lamsa/Flickr.
Bristly, dainty-hooved javelinas look a lot like wild pigs but are actually peccaries, a distinct species. Peccaries have more streamlined bodies and smaller ears than pigs — and no tail. But what they lack in these appendages, they more than make up for with their self-sharpening tusks (?!) and wallop-packing scent glands.
Javis, as they’re known to local people, are seen walking the border fence seeking an opening to continue on their route. Trump’s uninterrupted wall would stop them dead in their tracks. This would be a problem not just for javis, but for the ecosystem in which they play a key role.
To survive in the desert, you must be tough or ingenious or both. Javis are tough as nails, eating prickly pears and other cactus, thorns and all. They have a symbiotic relationship with prickly pears, whose fruit they eat and whose seeds are then deposited in scat in locations distant from the parent plant. In this way, javis assist in cactus migration.
Largely herbivorous, javis also eat saguaro fruit, mesquite beans and palo verde pods, assisting in the dispersal of these plants as well. If the migration of javis is prevented by the border wall, the migration of desert plants such as prickly pear will be affected too — and the many species that depend on prickly pears for their survival.
Borderlands wildlife are interconnected to each other and the landscape in ways that are often not apparent to us until we disturb or destroy ecosystems. And as a meeting place between north and south — where the northernmost ranges of some subtropical species and the southernmost ranges of some North American species overlap — the borderlands are exceptionally complex and shifting. Climate change is prompting many southern species to seek new northern horizons in response to changing ecosystems.
Placing a futile, grotesquely expensive wall in the midst of this web of life is a symptom of the shortsightedness and human hubris that’s doomed so many plants and animals already. Let’s not let it happen again, here and now, at the border.