Wildlife? In Berkeley?!

Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.

February 1, 1998

According to the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources), one fourth of the world's animals are threatened with extinction. A problem of this magnitude obviously can't be fixed by one person, group, company, or government institution. It will take everyone doing their share. What is Berkeley's share?

A traveller entering Berkeley sees a sign announcing its population and elevation. Of course, that is just the population of humans, and the elevation of a single point! This sign epitomizes Berkeley's head-in-the-sand attitude toward wildlife. We ignore the fact that many other species call the city their home. And we do next to nothing to ensure their welfare and continued existence.

In the '70s, Berkeley was home to a cute little rodent called the Berkeley kangaroo rat (Dipodomys heermanni berkeleyensis). It hasn't been seen in decades, and is presumed to be extinct. We honor the memory of long-dead humans, why not our own unique rodent? Memorializing the Berkeley kangaroo rat would be a wonderful opportunity to remind ourselves to cherish those we love (of all species), before they are gone. If California can have an extinct bear (the California grizzly) as its mascot, surely Berkeley can honor its own rat. And just as some Californians are considering restoring grizzlies to California, why not restore the kangaroo rat (perhaps the closely related D. heermanni californicus Merriam) to the vicinity of Berkeley?

We lost the Berkeley kangaroo rat, but we still have a chance to save the Alameda whipsnake (Masticophis lateralis euryxanthus), a state- and federally Threatened reptile that lives in dry brush and grasslands in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, including the Berkeley hills. It is a beautiful, fast, nonvenomous, dark brown snake with an orange stripe along each side. It reaches about 4-5 feet in length, and eats primarily fence lizards. Probably most residents of Berkeley have never heard of it, nor do they know that its habitat is continually being destroyed by development. There are significant populations in the East Bay Regional Parks, but EBRPD has done little to protect the snake, even though several have been killed there by mountain bikers.

Let's designate the Berkeley kangaroo rat and Alameda whipsnake as Berkeley mascots, and investigate what needs to be done to save the snake and restore the kangaroo rat.


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