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Posted by W von Papinešu on September 03, 2002 at 09:40:44:
EXPRESS-NEWS (San Antonio, Texas) 01 September 02 Are horny toads history? (Katherine Leal Unmuth)
Kenedy: Bernardo Garcia walked slowly Saturday, his paces measured as he kicked aside dirt and scanned the ground intently for a childhood friend that seems to have long since faded into memory.
The flat, dun-colored lizard known as a horny toad is a scarce sight these days.
Garcia wandered through a parched field with his 7-year-old grandson, Frankie Torres, at his side, hoping to catch sight of the small, spiky reptile.
"We just took it for granted they (were) going to be here forever," said Garcia, 53, who played with the lizards as a youngster. "You try to show your grandkids, and they're nowhere to be found."
On Saturday, a group of Texans, nostalgic for a time when the beastie was a daily sight, gathered in Kenedy to help take a horny toad census.
This is, after all, the Horned Toad Capital of the World.
Organized by the Kenedy Horned Toad Club and Horned Lizard Conservation Society, the census takers fanned out at various sites across the area. They were able to find only 12 of the creatures, although they did locate a sizable amount of "scat," or droppings, indicating there were many more around.
The horned lizard is a protected species in Texas. Loss of habitat, over-collection by the pet trade, and the accidental introduction of the imported fire ant have contributed to dramatic declines in horny toad populations, state officials say.
Although Garcia's group didn't spot one of the 12, Frankie did get a chance to pet a horny toad that was housed in an aquarium at the Karnes County Youth Showbarn. He was scared of the horns at first, he confided, but concluded the lizard wasn't so fierce after all.
"I want to save them," the boy said.
Lisa Wolf, 10, also overcame her fear of the creature and picked one up.
"A lot of kids at school told us the horns were going to hurt me, but they're real soft," she said. "They just tickle when they move."
James Johnson of Kenedy recalls playing with the horny toads and delighting in provoking them when he was a little boy. Although most of the time the lizards lie flat and stay inconspicuous, they can puff up as a defensive mechanism.
"We used to tease 'em with a little stick when I was growing up," Johnson said. "They puff up when they get angry. And if they get real angry they'll squirt in your eye."
Carter Snooks, 91, is vice president of Kenedy's horned lizard club. He remembers his children playing with the lizards, tying strings around their necks and taking them to school. He used to pay a neighbor boy a nickel every time he found one.
"I think it's symbolic of Texas," Snooks said. "It's kind of like your children. You appreciate them more when they're gone."