Authorities have identified a trio of men they said had a wild adventure at a popular spot in Death Valley.
The National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Nye County Sheriff’s Office are investigating an incident that occurred on Saturday at Devil’s Hole in Death Valley National Park that resulted in damage to government property, unauthorized entry of Devil’s Hole and possibly killed one of the endangered Devil’s Hole pupfish.
The identity of the three men identified by authorities has not been released. The park credits surveillance footage of the incident that was released on YouTube on Monday for helping identify the alleged suspects.
At around 7:20 p.m. on April 30, three men in an OHV, possibly a blue Yahama Rhino which had been customized with an added seat and safety cage, drove off road around a gate at the Devil’s Hole parking lot. They discharged a firearm at least 10 times, shooting locks on two gates, a motion sensor on the security system and several signs in the area.
One man swam in Devil’s Hole and left his boxer shorts behind in the water. Authorities say alcohol was involved in the incident, as three beer cans were left behind and one man vomited.
Devil’s Hole is a detached section of Death Valley and is the only natural habitat of the endangered Devil’s Hole pupfish. The National Park Service, in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Nevada Department of Wildlife, work to protect the endangered Devil’s Hole pupfish and its habitat. There were only 115 observable pupfish in Devil’s Hole counted during April’s spring survey. Park employees found an endangered Devil’s Hole pupfish dead on Monday. A necropsy is being performed on the pupfish to determine if the men’s actions played any role in the death of the endangered species.
In addition to the one dead pupfish discovered, one of the men waded and swam in Devil’s Hole, potentially causing disruption to the pupfish habitat. Video footage displayed the man walking on the shallow shelf, potentially stressing and crushing pupfish, which are slow-moving as they have no natural predators. April through May is the peak spawning season for this annual fish, and so the intruder likely crushed and destroyed eggs on the shelf, according to Death Valley officials.
The shallow underwater shelf is vital to the Devil’s Hole pupfish’s survival, providing algae and invertebrates for food and a spawning surface.
Despite efforts by the men to disable the security camera system by shooting the motion sensor and removing cables from a pair of cameras, the system was still partially functional during the entire time they were at Devil’s Hole. The surveillance footage that was posted on the Internet, shows the men hopping over a fence and driving away from the scene toward Crystal.
The National Park Service is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the men.
Tips can be reported to the National Park Service’s Investigative Services Branch by phone at 888-653-0009, via the Internet at www.surveymonkey.com/r/TipLine_InvestigativeServicesNPS or on the National Park Service’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/InvestigativeServicesNPS
Contact reporter Mick Akers at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @mickakers on Twitter.