Photo Credit: Darian Spencer
Rediscovery of the San Quintin K. Rat
March 12, 2019 -- Dr. Wayne Spencer advises on the methods for studying and conserving the San Quintin kangaroo rat


Wayne Spencer, Ph.D.
Chief Scientist, Head of Science Leadership Team, Team Lead- Planning & Management

CBI’s Chief Scientist, Dr. Wayne Spencer, and his film-student son Darian, are proud to assist the San Diego Natural History Museum (“the Nat”) and Mexican NGO Terra Peninsular with conserving a rare mammal in Mexico, the San Quintin kangaroo rat. Kangaroo rats seem something like a cross between a kangaroo and a squirrel; they live mostly on seeds, forage at night, and can bound rapidly and elusively like kangaroos.

About 20 species of kangaroo rats are found in arid portions of southwestern North America. This particular species--known only from the San Quintin Valley on the Pacific coast of Baja, California, Mexico--was for decades thought to be extinct due to almost complete conversion of its habitat to irrigated agriculture. However, in recent decades, groundwater depletion caused many agricultural fields to be abandoned, allowing the San Quintin kangaroo rat to recolonize former haunts, apparently from small undeveloped pockets of habitat on the fringes of the valley.

Having rediscovered the species in 2017, the Nat and Terra Peninsular currently study its distribution and ecology to support a conservation plan for it. Dr. Spencer, himself an expert on kangaroo rats and other rare species, is advising on the methods for studying and conserving the San Quintin kangaroo rat. His son Darian Spencer, a film student in Germany, accompanied the study team on a recent expedition to document the story. The resulting video ( will be used by the Nat and Terra for public education, outreach, and fund raising efforts.

Unfortunately, Terra is racing the clock, as new sea-water desalinization plants are again re-invigorating agriculture in the region, threatening to reverse the species’ recovery.  Luckily, as explained in the film, at least three kangaroo rat populations are in preserve areas, where they can be protected and managed by Terra Peninsular.


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