Extremely Rare Fish Found Dead After Drunk Idiots Vandalize Death Valley National Park [UPDATE]
The search is on for three drunk idiots who vandalized a sensitive habitat near Death Valley, leaving one extremely endangered fish dead in their wake.
On Friday, the National Park Service announced a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of three men who trespassed and vandalized the Devils Hole unit of Death Valley National Park. The 40-acre site is detached from the main portion of the park, about 30 miles outside of the park boundary within Nevada's Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. It contains a 500-foot deep pool in the desert that is home to the rarest fish in the world—the Devils Hole pupfish.
On the evening of Saturday, April 30, the three men drove around a locked gate at Devils Hole and shot at signs, locks, and a motion sensor on the security system. One of the vandals climbed the fence that protects Devils Hole and swam in the pool, leaving behind a pair of boxers floating in the water. While the men tried to disable the cameras at the site by yanking out the wires, their shenanigans were still captured on video. They also left behind beer cans and some vomit. Abby Wines, the public information officer for the park, told LAist that they thankfully did not vomit into the water of Devils Hole.
While Wines said the video footage was of low-quality, officials believe the men rode in a blue Yamaha Rhino off-road vehicle.
Update [4:20]: The National Park Service has released the security camera footage of the vandals. At 0:39 you can see footage of one of the men wading in the water.
The following Monday, park officials found the trash left by the three drunkards and one of the pupfish dead in the pool. According to a count from April, the pool only had 115 fish. Confined only to the top few feet of the water in Devils Hole, the pupfish population can fluctuate during the year, going as low as a few dozen to up to 500 in the summer. Officials are performing a necropsy to determine whether or not the vandalism contributed to the fish's death.
Native only to that small pool in the Nevada desert, the pupfish has been at the center of the first case involving the Endangered Species Act to go to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1976's Cappaert v. United States decision, the justices ruled against developer interests in the area that wanted to pump groundwater, which would have critically threatened the fish. As a result, the fish is closely guarded and Devils Hole fenced off.
"The reason why they're under so much security is the worry that if people in the public thought a couple gallons of Clorox could fix this problem, there'd be no more Devils Hole pupfish," and thus the groundwater restrictions would be lifted, Wines told LAist. "It doesnt seem these men were motivated by that because they could easily done that. They were most likely just drunk."
Thankfully, Wines says the damage is only superficial and the vandalism and the death of the fish will not affect the conservation of the Devils Hole pupfish in the long term.
The Devils Hole pupfish is the smallest of several pupfish species in the Southwest deserts (many of which are also endangered), growing to no more than an inch long. They are believed to be what remains of what used to be a much wetter environment in the Death Valley area.
Update [5/10, 12:10 p.m.]: Death Valley National Park announced that the three men caught on video vandalizing Devils Hole have been identified. "The investigators thank members of the public for sending in tips and providing helpful information," officials said in a statement. "This active case continues and no further details are available at this time."
The development comes after the Center for Biological Diversity announced they had tripled the reward in the case to $15,000.
While the National Park Service said the cause of death for the one pupfish found dead was undetermined, analysis indicates that the time window of its death included the period in which one of the men went skinny-dipping in Devils Hole. Officials say he may have stepped on the slow-moving fish, and likely crushed their eggs.