The border wall that winds along the US-Mexico border was built to keep migrants out, but conservationists say the towering metal barrier also prevents wildlife from moving between natural habitats.
Alarmed by the impact on animals including jaguars, bears and cougars, activists from the United States and Mexico have joined forces to try to protect the biodiversity corridor.
“This part of the border is one of the most interesting places in North America,” said Valer Clark, founder of the cross-border conservation organization Cuenca Los Ojos (CLO).
Bears, cougars, deer, bighorn sheep and coatimundi are among the animals that roam the arid lands of southern Arizona and the northern Mexican state of Sonora, she told AFP.
But photos from camera traps and the conservationists’ own observations have revealed deer, cougars and black bears pacing the boundary wall, the group says, confused and unable to reach their former habitats.
A family of boars spent five hours trying to get past the wall in search of water, said Jose Manuel Perez, CLO’s director of conservation.
Boundary lighting, meanwhile, deters nocturnal animals and could cause migratory birds navigating by moonlight or starlight to get lost, environmentalists warned.
The wall was first built by the United States in 1994 and underwent major reinforcements during Donald Trump’s 2017-2021 presidency.
The barrier, which spans almost the entire southern fringe of Arizona, “has major impact” on animal migration, Perez said.
CLO is calling for the removal or modification of the parts of the border wall that cause the most damage to wildlife, and for all transboundary rivers to be restored.
It’s been more than 40 years since Clark moved to a cattle ranch in southwest Arizona, where the New Yorker fell in love with the wide open spaces.
Back then, it was a very different place, where people would easily cross the border to visit relatives, she recalls.
The region may look barren, but in fact “it’s full of important wildlife and diversity,” said Eamon Harrity, wildlife project manager at the Sky Island Alliance, another conservation group active in the area.
“The development of a major human barrier has consequences,” he said.
Jaguars can return to the US Southwest, but only if they have trails to head north
© 2022 AFP
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