The shotgun-slinging, beer-fueled bros who federal authorities say trashed the only home of an endangered fish near Death Valley National Park could find themselves hauled up in front of a judge before long.
Apparently unfamiliar or uninterested in the naturalist's code of "take only photos, leave only footprints," the men are suspected of taking the life of a Devils Hole pupfish and leaving behind beer cans, a pair of boxer shorts, and a puddle of vomit after an April 30 romp.
"Devils Hole pupfish have been teetering on the brink of extinction for years. The last thing they need are these idiots running amok in the last place on Earth where they still survive," Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist at the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement on the vandalism.
The National Park Service put up $5,000 in reward money for anyone who helps them find the pupfish perps. The environmental group put up another $10,000.
One of the men used a shotgun to blow out the locks on two gates and a motion sensor. But the security cameras kept working, and rangers posted video of the intrusion and asked the public to call if they recognized anyone.
Park spokeswoman Abby Wines said authorities have contacted the men, but the investigation was continuing and no charges had been brought as of Wednesday.
The roughly inch-long Devils Hole pupfish exists only in a bathwater-warm limestone pool on the Nevada side of the 3.4 million-acre park. There were 115 of the fish in an April count, and visitors normally are kept to a walkway that lets them look down into the pool, Wines said.
One of the bros decided to go skinny-dipping in that pool, "causing potentially significant disruption to their habitat" and damaging scientific equipment used to monitor the site. One underwater camera captured the man's feet tromping around in about a foot of water, kicking up a cloud of muck and bits of vegetation.
"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," park officials said. "April through May is the peak spawning season for this annual fish, and so the intruder likely crushed and destroyed eggs on the shelf."
The pool is located in a remote area about 30 miles from the bulk of the park, Wines said. While its opening is about eight by 30 feet, it reaches as much as 500 feet below the desert floor, expanding as it goes down, Wines said.
"It's quite a substantial underwater cave," she said. But the pupfish live primarily in a shallow portion about two feet deep near the opening.
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Editor's Note: This article was corrected to reflect that the endangered species habitat is nearby Death Valley National Park, not in it.