Stretching from the southwestern United States deep into the Central Mexican Highlands, the Chihuahuan is one of the largest and most biologically diverse deserts in North America. A water crisis and other threats, however, are endangering the survival of wildlife and people living in this unique environment.
© Edward Parker / WWF
Other desert wildlife includes the jaguar (Felis onca), collared peccary (Pecari tajacu), bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis), Mexican blackheaded snake (Tantilla atriceps) and greater earless lizard (Cophosaurus texanus).
A river runs through itLittle rain falls in the Chihuahuan, but the Rio Grande River - known as the Rio Bravo in Mexico - flows through the desert, providing a lifeline for all these animal and plants species, and the millions of people who live here.
While the river supports an exceptional array of wildlife, water withdrawals as a result of population growth and intensive agricultural activities are threatening the health of this all important cross-border ecosystem. Overgrazing, invasive species and mining are also taking their toll on the environment.
WWF is working on a number of projects to protect the Chihuahuan, which focus on restoring river habitats, and conserving grasslands and wetlands. Fostering collaboration on both sides of the US-Mexico border is key to successful conservation.
The butterfly and the cactus
Each year, millions of monarch butterflies migrate from Canada and United States to winter in the forests of central Mexico. Along the way they help cross-pollinate thousands of plants, including numerous cacti species in the Chihuahuan Desert.
The Chihuahuan is home to about 345 of the world's 1,500 cactus species. The cacti and other plants are a crucial part of the desert ecosystem, providing shelter and food for birds, bats and other animals. Local people also rely on cacti for medicinal use, such as a traditional Mexican arthritis treatment.
© WWF / Jo Benn
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Facts & Figures
- The Chihuahuan Desert covers an area of about 362,600km2 (or 140,000 square miles).
- It is the third largest desert entirely within the Western Hemisphere and the second largest in North America, after the Great Basin Desert.
- Chihuahuan is home to more than 130 mammals, 3,000 plant species (1,000 are endemic), over 500 bird species and 110 native freshwater fish.
- Winters and nights are cool, while summer days can reach temperatures of up to 40ºC.