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A botanist who used to work on his studies in various remote parts of the Sonora, Mexico, mountains says that work now is being left incomplete because of a health problem that developed for him on the job.
“I got kind of allergic to pistols being held to my forehead,” botanist Richard Felger said in a report on the impact drug smugglers are having on various scientific endeavors.
The Arizona Republic report was published on the website of KPNX, Channel 12, television in Phoenix, and documented the scientists’ inability to complete studies on jaguars, various insects, bats, fish and other subjects of scientific inquiry.
Biologist Karen Krebbs told the newspaper she used to study bats in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument on the border between Arizona and Mexico.
But she got tired of dodging drug smugglers.
“I use night-vision goggles, and you could see them very clearly,” she said, describing the caravans of smugglers and illegal aliens with guns and backpacks full of drugs.
She frequently dove under bushes or behind rocks to hide, she said. Eventually, she got tired of it and quit the research.
“I’m just not willing to risk my neck anymore,” she told the newspaper.
The report said scientists working on a variety of projects along the southwestern U.S. border are making the same decision over and over.
“In the last year, it’s gotten much worse,” Jack Childs, who studies endangered jaguars in Arizona. He uses infrared cameras to monitor the elusive creatures, but loses cameras regularly.
While there long has been an element of marijuana-growing and drug-smuggling interests present in the remote deserts, those influences now are taking over, the report said.
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, in fact, has stopped providing new research permits for most projects because of the criminal activity. And scientists who do go into the area are required to sign statements acknowledging the National Park Service will not guarantee their safety from “potentially dangerous persons entering … from Mexico.”
“Biologists are stuck in the middle” of what appears to be “a kind of arms race,” said Jim Malusa, who maps desert vegetation. He said the impact on research is “chilling.”
Situations are becoming more violent, with assaults of Border Patrol agents reaching a record 250 from Oct. 1, to Dec. 16, up nearly 40 percent from just 12 months earlier, the report said.
The report said the result is that research is going undone, or being left incomplete.
“The most serious problem is when you have to visit a specific place in the countryside, places of geological interest,” said Andres Burquez, a professor at Mexico’s National Autonomous University.
“You can go to A, B and C place, but not D. And it turns out that’s the place that interests you most,” he said.
Comprehensive statistics about such threats, or attacks, aren’t available, but researchers are almost unanimous in their perspective that it’s there, and it’s a problem.
Childs reports he is unable to put cameras in his jaguar study on the Mexican side of the border because property owners now are either fearful of, or cooperating with, smugglers. So the question whether jaguars are rebounding in the United States, or simply walking over from Mexico, cannot be answered.
Krebbs also is unable to complete work on the bats at Organ Pipe, and Dean Hendrickson, a University of Texas ichthyologist, says similar problems have dogged in study of Mexican trout.
“There’s no doubt: The drug stuff is definitely affecting research,” he told the newspaper.
“There are a lot of researchers who have ducked out of doing research in Mexico,” said Michael Wilson, of the Drylands Institute in Tucson.
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