Student's survey shows UHCL's campus is home to diverse wildlife population
Throughout University of Houston-Clear Lake’s nearly 50-year history in Bay Area Houston, it has touted its peaceful, scenic location on 524 acres of green space. Horsepen Bayou runs through campus, marking beautiful spots like the Pat and Wendell Wilson Park and Serenity Garden, where people can sit on shaded benches along the water and enjoy the wildlife that roams freely among the trees, foliage, across the roads and often into the parking lots.
Jasmine Thompson, who is pursuing her Master of Science in Environmental Science, works at the Environmental Institute of Houston and is completing a survey to get more information about the wildlife with whom UH-Clear Lake faculty, students and visitors daily coexist.
“I have 11 motion-sensored game cameras out on the nature trail, and whenever the camera senses something moving, it takes a burst of three photos,” she said. “The wildlife survey I’m doing goes hand-in-hand with other surveys that are being completed on the restoration site on the nature trail.”
She said parts of the site are being restored to post-oak savannah, instead of having an overgrown woodland full of invasive and aggressive growing plants.
“There’s more oak trees and more of a mixture of woodland and prairie, which is beneficial because those are the native species that used to be there before the land was used for other reasons. Some animals thrive in that environment naturally, as well as plants,” she said.
Anyone who’s been on campus, especially in the early morning or toward the late afternoon, has seen deer out and about, feeding on grasses and leaves, and occasionally even fighting.
“I’ve got photos of lots of deer, but also armadillos, rabbits, bobcats, coyotes, racoons, possums, squirrels and more recently, wild hogs,” she said. “I’ve seen three hogs, and they are concerning. They are destructive and aggressive, and you can tell the destruction they’re causing at the restoration site because the other animals are around less because of them.”
Hogs use their snouts to dig and make big holes, she explained. “Grass and plants won’t grow there, and you can see spots on the restoration site where nothing is growing because of them. Armadillos dig for their food too, and the hogs are taking away resources from them.”
She did not expect to see the hogs, and didn’t know where they’d come from. “It’s not good for them to be there, and we’re looking for ways to remove them properly, with the right plans and permissions,” she said. “One of the most surprising photos I saw was a coyote just watching an armadillo. He just left it to dig around. He just watched him. They didn’t seem to mind each other.”
There are bobcats around campus, but Thompson said the camera has only picked up one at a time. Of the 11 that are part of the survey, the camera that seems to get the most activity, she added, is between the restoration site and the nature trail, because it’s a good area for finding food.
“They’re always more active at night,” she said. “The coyotes are also usually by themselves, except when they’re mating.” There are also plenty of insects, snakes, as well as alligators and turtles along the bayou. “They don’t get on camera much, but they’re out there,” she said.
Thompson, who also received her Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science from UHCL in 2022, said doing the survey was helping her gain the experience she needed to begin a career in conservation or restoration.
“Doing the survey helps me see the biodiversity of the area,” she said. “Now the hogs are there, it’s giving me the experience of seeing how an invasive species can affect the species that live there.” She said the presence of the wildlife adds to the beauty of the UHCL campus.
“We can definitely brag about our wildlife here at UHCL,” she said. “It’s not common to go to school and see animals where they live.”
To learn more about UHCL's history as a wildlife preserve, go online.