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Wildlife and the Border between Mexico and the United States

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By Kimberly Garcia
Blog Content Contributor

Last spring, my writing class invited Krista Schlyer to come and speak to us about her work on the border wall. The class mainly focused on her book “Continental Divide: Wildlife, People, and the Border Wall” and the work she did while in the south western part of the United States. I always knew that many people have a high risk being deported, losing their families or even their lives to come to the U.S., but I never considered the effects the border had on the animals that lived in the region. Schlyer’s presentation taught me about the creatures with a food source in Mexico and a water source in the U.S., and how overtime a part of the border fence that divided the two had to be knocked down in order for these animals to survive. 

Schlyer’s Continental Divide has earned several awards including Southwest Book of the Year. Photo via kristaschlyer.com

Before listening to Schlyer’s lecture, whenever I thought about the border I only thought of the human perspective. I think it’s common and good to think about humanity first. However, now that I think about the landscape, I think about how it’s mostly desert. Desert animals such as reptiles and mammals are affected by the border wall, which has changed the shape and growth of the land around it. For example, the fence that separates the U.S and Mexico border gathers sand that builds up along the wall. Animals in the area don’t know what to do when they are faced with such a barrier. Issues like this can be especially detrimental to animals that are near endangerment, such as ocelots.

Currently there are two populations of Ocelots that breed near the U.S-Mexico border. The border fences threaten ocelots by exposing their population to cars and habitat loss. Ocelots need room to roam around and with a large portion of the land taken up by private owners, or divided by fences, there isn’t much of their habitat left.

The division between the U.S. and Mexican lands can also decrease mating. The barrier that divides the two countries separates the ocelot population into two groups which reside in Mexico and the U.S. This splits the ocelots in half, and leaves the two groups without as many possible mates. This could slow down their reproductive rates and lower their population overall. In addition, when reproducing it is important to have a diverse gene pool so that the animals can survive new threats. This is where “survival of the fittest” comes into play, but when most of the population is separated, the ocelots miss out on creating more diverse offspring. This could cause them to die out faster than it would take for them to repopulate the divided areas of their once expansive habitat.  

Building a “larger, better” wall will cause more problems for the animals that are native to the area. I appreciated the work Schlyer is doing, and I’m glad she came to my class and taught us about the obstacles that are created by people trying to separate lands. If efforts for “building a wall” continue, the endangered animals in the area will eventually end up extinct at the hand of human politics.

Featured illustration by Joseph Bonney.


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