Kade Wilson, a 15-year-old Oklahoma resident, has been exposed to nature for as long as he can remember. As a homeschooler he has often been taken directly out into fields and near creeks and lakes to learn lessons about science by directly observing the natural world — which he has always loved. Kade has kept a nature journal for most of his life.

But he really became devoted to nature after he moved to a house with a big field behind it, where he first saw a Texas horned lizard (also called a “horny toad”): a round-bodied, formidable-looking reptile famous for the crest of thorns at the back of its head. Around the same time, Kade saw a new documentary about the reptile and learned that it was rare — listed under Texas's state Endangered Species Act and protected from killing and collection. And just as his curiosity about (and concern for) the lizard reached a peak, he learned that a shopping center was planned for the horned-lizard haven behind his own home.

Where will the horny toads go when the shopping center comes? Kade wondered anxiously. But he didn't just sit there wondering; he acted.

Kade and his mother spent a couple of years contacting scientists all over the Midwest to gather information on the horned lizard and its habits. And finally, in the summer of 2014, he was surfing the Internet when he found the name and contact information of the Center's own Collette Adkins Giese, the first-ever lawyer devoted solely to saving reptiles and amphibians. When he emailed Collette, she suggested that he join the Center (and two independent scientists) in gaining additional protection for the Texas horned lizard — namely, filing a petition to protect it under Oklahoma's Endangered Species Act as well as Texas's. That petition was filed in December 2014.

“People older than me said there wasn't a day that went by in the summer that they would not see a horny toad, they were that common, said Kade. “[But most] people my age have never even seen them at all, or heard of them. If anyone saw a horned lizard they would fall in love. It's like seeing a live dinosaur right in front of you.”

Kade says several of his friends are also environmental activists. “Young people do care,” he said, “but they need help knowing how to get involved. That's what Collette did for me.” And that's what the Center is also doing with our Generation Wild website.

Sadly, even as Kade was being interviewed for this very piece, he could hear the sounds of bulldozers behind his house. But, he said, “Now I know that at least I've tried to do something, and I hope that others will do the same thing — just try! ... And yes, I have hope that we can save [the lizards]. It's complicated beyond anything I ever imagined, but worth it.”

Learn more about the Texas horned lizard in our press release about the petition.


Banner photo © Robin Silver; TExas horner lizard photo by Robert Burton/USFWS