In the latest case of blatant vandalism in a national park, three drunk “idiots” held a raucous, frat-style party at an ancient cavern in Death Valley that’s home to an endangered fish and left behind shotgun shells, beer cans, underwear, and vomit.
They also may have killed one endangered pupfish and crushed several eggs, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“Devil’s Hole pupfish have been teetering on the brink of extinction for years,” said Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The last thing they need are these idiots running amok in the last place on Earth where they still survive.”
Investigators have identified the three men responsible, but they haven’t yet been arrested. Although the vandals tried to damage the security system surrounding the creatures’ habitat, they didn’t do a very thorough job — their antics were captured by a few surviving cameras, including one positioned in the pond.
The men chose Devils Hole as the location for the party. It’s a protected habitat for the pupfish, which can only survive in Death Valley. Only 115 of the little, one-and-a-half inch fish are currently in existence, but the water-filled cavern has been known to support up to 500, the Washington Post reported.
The little creatures are nearly extinct, and to protect those still left, the National Park Service has protected their habitat in Death Valley with a fence and security system.
These were breached on April 30. Death Valley officials recently discovered the destructive aftermath of the men’s actions and released security footage of their behavior on Monday.
They discovered that signs, two gate locks, and a motion sensor had been shot. Beer cans littered site, along with puddles of vomit and a pair of boxers in the cavern’s waters. Some scientific monitoring equipment had also been damaged, and the vandals tried to pull cables in an attempt to disable the security system. One of them also urinated inside the protected area.
According to NBC Los Angeles, at least 10 rounds were fired.
An underwater pupfish camera also captured at least one of the men stomping around and swimming in Devils Hole, disturbing sediment and water and likely crushing eggs. At one point, he lost his boxer shorts and left them behind.
Death Valley officials also found a dead pupfish in the wake of the men’s party, floating in the water. A necropsy discovered that the creature died 24 to 48 hours before, around the time the vandals visited their habitat. It’s possible that they’re responsible for the pupfish’s death.
“Video footage recorded this man walking on the shallow shelf, potentially stressing and crushing pupfish, which are slow-moving, docile, and as they have no natural predators, curious by nature,” officials said in a statement. “April through May is the peak spawning season for this annual fish, and so the intruder likely crushed and destroyed eggs on the shelf.”
Luckily for investigators, a joint reward between the park service and Center for Biological Diversity inspired many people to call the tip line. Many recognized the Yamaha Rhino the men rode in on, which was “extensively customized, with an added seat and safety cage.” This distinctive vehicle led authorities to the vandals.
The pupfish are the descendants of a species that lived in Death Valley when it was covered in an ancient lake. They’ve spent up to 20,000 years at Devils Hole within the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, located in the Nevada side of Death Valley National Park. Their population has been in decline since the mid-1990s, and today, the population ranges from 100 to 200 in the winter and 300 and 500 in the summer.
At the end of last month, someone carved graffiti into the red rock of the Frame Arch in Arches National Park. The damage was so severe that officials doubted they could repair it.
[Image via Wikimedia Commons/Photo credit: Olin Feuerbacher, USFWS]