To Care, To Give, To Help

by Paul Swen

The holiday season is upon us. It’s the time of year when we traditionally try to focus on the positive. As temperatures start to drop and the colors outside begin to change, we want to rejoice, to reflect, to appreciate what really matters. We want the year to feel good. And yes, when we look back over the previous months, despite the challenges of 2021, we really did make some good things happen.

Remember the historic winter storm? That was hectic. But through incredible teamwork, determination, and Texan tenacity we got through it. The harsh winter rolled into a rejuvenating spring. There may have been a lot of broken pipes, brown plants and debris scattered across Tyler, but the flowers began to bloom again, the sun washed everything in its invigorating energy and we were able to get back together and share some normalcy. Our kids were able to play outside again. Summer was filled with sports, camps and finding escapes from the hot, southern sun. And now the cool breezes of autumn bring in the spirit of the holidays. It’s a time to concentrate on the positive. Tis the season to care, to give, to just “do good.” And some pretty great things can happen when people join together to help those in need. 

Giants of Texas lore were in trouble. Their survival was in question. If something wasn’t done, they could disappear altogether. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department was determined to save these legends. So, they called in the experts, including a team from Tyler, Texas. 

Tucked beneath the trees in a quiet part of the forest, there’s a small, wood frame building where delicate, precise work is being done every day.  The headquarters is rather unassuming and seemingly, unremarkable. But the magnitude of the work underway is tremendous. “We’re all pretty excited about this. Just to be a part of this special program is an honor,” said William Garvin, one of the contributing specialists. His team was united in saving an icon from extinction.

This was no easy task. Everything had to be just right. The breeding center needed to provide healthy, specialized nutrition, the perfect climate, a natural environment, along with peace and quiet. Animals from the wild were carefully transferred to the center and delicately introduced to one another in the hopes that they would breed and contribute to the survival of their species.

Then, on a quiet, inauspicious day, after years of research, and months of focused work, and weeks of waiting and waiting, all the careful planning and dedication came to fruition. The first hatchlings crawled out of their eggs and made history. For the first time ever, a clutch of armored, spike-encrusted lizards, whose genetic heritage dates back millions of years, emerged from their sandy bed at the Caldwell Zoo. The legendary Texas Horned Lizards, AKA “Texas Horny Toads,” were here. 

These throwbacks to ancient times are not giants. In fact, the hatchlings are about the size of a common penny and weigh just a few grams. But they are still absolutely spectacular. They are adorned in unworldly defenses. Their hide is perfectly camouflaged for rough terrain. Their claws are needle sharp. Their head and back are adorned in an array of gristly spikes. And if that isn’t enough, when attacked, they have the ability to shoot blood from their eyes. Yes, the Texas Horned Lizards are deservedly legendary.

There are eight species of horned lizards and naturally, the Texas Horned Lizard is the largest. They once roamed across much of the Southwest, but due to habitat loss, pesticides and the spread of fire ants, their numbers in the wild had drastically declined. Now, thanks to a united effort of zoological professionals, including the team at the Caldwell Zoo, hatchlings from these breeding programs are being reintroduced into the wild and their numbers are on the rise. 

Yvonne Stainback, the team leader, shared her perspective. “To say that we’re proud may be a bit of an understatement. It’s taken a tremendous amount of work to get everything just right. This is a truly fascinating animal. To know that we’re contributing to the survival of this species is incredible. I’m very, very proud of my team.”

2021 may have been a wild year, packed with challenges, conflict and uncertainty, but it has also been packed by quiet examples of strength, determination, camaraderie and benevolence. The moral of the story: When we focus on a mission, when we work together, when we give it our best; we can really make a difference, for the good of all. Wishing you and yours a happy holiday and a new year full of rich potential.