The Mohave tui chub’s (Gila bicolor mohavensis) recovery from the edge of extinction in 1970, to 8,500 fish in five populations in 2012, is a testament to the Endangered Species Act and decades of hard work by scientists, government agencies, and more recently, visionary high school students who rallied a small town to save the Mojave River’s only native fish. None of that would have been possible though, had the chub not been saved from extinction by two unlikely men: the apocalyptic founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and a tax-evading, land-stealing, tonic-selling, radio evangelist/real estate developer dubbed ""King of Quacks"" by the American Medical Association.
The Mohave tui chub is the only fish native to the Mojave River basin. During the Pleistocene (2.5 million to ~11,700 years ago), it occurred throughout the basin, which at the time was a vast wetland complex comprised of the Mojave River, three very large lakes (Manix, Mojave, and Little Lake Mojave), many small lakes, and a network of meandering channels connecting them . Manix, the largest of the lakes, carved Afton Canyon with its outflow, and from there alternatively flowed into Lake Mojave or Little Lake Mojave . Lake Mojave covered what are now the Soda Lake and Silver Lake playas. Little Mojave Lake covered what are now the East and West Cronese Lake playas.
As the climate warmed during the Holocene (beginning ~11,200 years ago), the basin became increasingly arid. What was largely a lacustrine (=slow-water, wetland) ecosystem, became a fluvial (=relatively swift-water, riverine) ecosystem. The channels and small lakes disappeared; the large lakes shrank to small, ephemerally wet playas, and perennial surface water was confined to the Mojave River and its larger tributaries.
The Mohave tui chub became restricted to the Mojave River mainstem, primarily inhabiting deep pools and slough-like areas: micro-habitats similar to the Pleistocene ecosystem it evolved in . In the early 20th century it was most common in lower elevation, low gradient, perennial reaches downstream of Victorville, Calif. Though stream flow is more reliable in the headwaters upstream of Victorville, the chub is not evolutionarily equipped to establish viable populations in the relatively shallow, swift-flowing, frequent flooding conditions which predominate there.
THREATS AND DECLINE
Human water withdrawals in the modern period greatly exacerbated the natural desertification trend, eliminating most perennial reaches of the river, and confining the chub to a very small range. In the 1930s, nonnative arroyo chubs (used as bait fish) were introduced to the river where they competed and hybridized with the Mohave tui chub . The former’s dominance was facilitated by its better ability to survive flooding. Other detrimental introductions included large-mouth bass, catfish, trout, mosquitofish, bullfrogs and crayfish. These, combined with increased flooding, pollution, water withdrawals and habitat degradation, extirpated non-hybridized Mohave tui chub from the river mainstem by 1970.
The recent discovery of parasitic Asian tapeworms in tui chubs is a concern, but as of 2012 has not been proven to reduce population levels . At least two of the populations—MC Spring (at Soda Springs) and Camp Cady—have reduced genetic diversity .
RECENT POPULATION TREND
1970: When listed as an endangered species in October 1970, the Mohave tui chub was extirpated from the Mojave River . It existed in just two populations: Soda Springs and Piute Creek. The 1984 federal recovery plan  incorrectly states that it also existed at Paradise Spa and Two Hole Spring (see below).
1978: In 1978, there were three populations . Soda Springs still existed; Piute Creek failed (1977); new populations were established at Lark Seep (1971) and Desert Research Station (1978).
1992: In 1992, there were three populations . Soda Springs and Lark Seep still existed; Desert Research Station failed (1992); a new population was established at Camp Cady (1986).
2008: In 2008, there were four populations . Soda Springs, Lark Seep and Camp Cady still existed; a new population was established at Lewis Center (2008).
2011: In 2011, there were five populations . Soda Springs, Lark Seep, Camp Cady and Lewis Center still existed; a new population was established at Morning Star Mine (2011).
The Mohave tui chub’s total population size in 1970 is not known. We estimate a likely maximum of 1,000 to 2,000 fish based on later trends at Soda Springs and the presumption that the Piute Springs population was never large. The 2011 population was on the order of 8,000 to 9,000 fish . The most recent precise data are: 1,573 fish at Soda Springs (2007), 3,607 at Camp Cady (2007), 6,000 at Lark Seep (2003), 1,560 at Lewis Center (2011), and 1,000 introduced to Morning Star Mine (2011) [6, 9].
RECOVERY TIME AND CRITERIA
The 1984 federal recovery plan requires that to downlist the chub from “endangered” to “threatened,” there must be six populations of at least 500 fish . Each must have been free of threats for at least five years and have survived at least one significant flooding event. Each of the four established populations extant as of 2012 greatly exceeds 500 fish, but only three have been extant for five years. The fifth (Morning Star Mine) also exceeds 500 fish, but it is too early to declare it “established” since it was only established in October 2011.
Recovery efforts increased considerably in response to a 2003 National Park Service sponsored tui chub recovery workshop  and plans are underway to increase the size of existing populations and establish new ones . We expect the 1984 downlisting criteria to be met within the next decade. The plan, however, is outdated. A draft revision was completed in 1988 , but never finalized. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies contemplated updating the plan in 2003 (see discussion at ), but have not yet done so.
Accounting for the chub’s history of sudden, unexpected population failures (see below), we recommend a more fluid, meta-population approach: ten populations at sites dedicated to chub recovery, which over a five-year period simultaneously include at least six populations of at least 1,000 fish. This criterion anticipates and buffers against sharp population declines and complete population failures. It will prevent a single, catastrophic—but temporary—event from triggering the need to uplist again to endangered status.
The recovery plan requires that to be delisted, the tui chub be re-established in the majority of its historic range . The goal is ambiguous, however, because chub’s historic late-Holocene range is different from the historic Pleistocene range in which it evolved, and which still defines its genetically-driven behavior. Restoration to its historic modern range (the Mojave River mainstem), moreover, is almost certainly unattainable due to climate change, dewatering, widespread presence of numerous nonnative species, urbanization, and lack of slough-like habitats to serve as post-flood recolonization refugia (see discussion at ). Under the current delisting criteria, we concur with National Park Service biologists who concluded that “Human population growth and increased water demand in the Mojave River drainage may make delisting the Mohave tui chub impossible” .
We recommend that the criteria be updated to recognize that while the chub should be restored to the Mojave River to maintain important natural selection pressures, its range there will be considerably less than the majority of the river. Most future Mohave tui chub populations, like all current populations, will exist in human-created ponds adjacent to the river. There should be approximately 20 of these, of which approximately 12 should simultaneously support at least 1,000 fish over a five-year period.
POPULATIONS EXTANT AS OF 2012
1. SODA SPRINGS, MOJAVE NATIONAL PRESERVE
The Soda Springs complex is known to have been occupied by Mohave tui chubs since at least 1917, with strong evidence pointing back to at least 1907 . It may have been continually occupied much longer than that. It contains the sole remaining, non-introduced, relict chub population (MC Springs) which has served as the ultimate source of all reintroduction efforts since the 1950s. Soda Springs is the only existing population that was also extant in 1970 when the chub was listed as an endangered species.
Soda Springs was used for thousands of years by early predecessors of the Mohave and Chemehuevi peoples and was an important site in the traditional range of the Chemehuevi and Vanyume [7, 11]. Being a rare, dependable water source on the well-used trade route between the California Coast and the Colorado River, Soda Springs would have been extensively visited by native groups, but there is no evidence that they harmed the Mohave tui chub (know as “tui-pagwi” to the Paiute) or its habitat there or elsewhere.
The first European to visit Soda Springs was likely Father Francisco Garces in 1776 . Trapper/explorer Jedediah Smith was the first recorded Anglo to visit the springs. He passed through in 1826 and 1827, finding the water “brackish.” Kit Carson and Lt. John C. Fremont led later expeditions. A permanent military post was established at the springs in 1864 to thwart alleged attacks by Mohaves. The post was shuttered in 1871.
The area was mined for gold, salt and soda at the turn of the century [7, 11]. The heavily used Tonopah-Tidewater Railroad was laid north what is now Lake Tuendae in 1906 [7, 11]. The springs were extensively altered and diverted during this time, but effects on the chub were not recorded.
Between 1914 and 1974, Soda Springs was occupied by two quixotic religious groups who unwittingly saved the Mohave tui chub from extinction by keeping it alive, and even increasing its population, until formal conservation programs took over chub’s fate in 1970s.
Charles Taze Russell, the charismatic founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, believed that the second coming of Jesus happened in October of 1874 . He would reign invisibly on this earth, harvesting souls in the desert of modernity for 40 years. Then in October of 1914, Christ would re-ascend to Heaven, bringing an end to the Time of the Gentiles, and unleashing Armageddon “with fury poured out; a time of trouble such as never was before, nor ever shall be; a day of wrath” . Russell divined these dates from biblical numerology and corroborated them in a close examination of the geometry of the Great Pyramid of Giza, which he called the “Bible in stone” .
Though his Watchtower Bible and Tract Society was headquartered in Brooklyn, N.Y., Russell and a small band of followers homesteaded Soda Springs in 1914 [7, 18] to mine for gold and wait for the end of the world. The outbreak of World War I later that year was a welcome confirmation of the End of Days—“When our worthy President and also his Holiness the Pope requested Christian people to pray God for the cessation of the European war, we declared that the prayer was not in harmony with the Divine arrangement…the war is the one predicted in the Scriptures as associated with the great day of God Almighty-‘the day of vengeance of our God.’”—at Soda Springs, it led to the jailing of Russell’s German immigrant followers and himself with them .
Soda Springs was abandoned in 1916 following Russell’s strange death and a massive flood which damaged the railway and inundated much of the area for two years. It remained abandoned, and what would become, if it was not already, the last relict Mohave tui chub population, was left undisturbed until the arrival of radio evangelist Curtis Howe Springer in 1944 .
Springer at various times claimed to be a doctor, college dean, ordained minister, and emissary of non-existent colleges, academies and medical schools . He lectured on health, temperance, marriage, the ill-effects of argumentation, and the virtues of Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal. He amassed a fortune selling tonics, teas, bath salts and breads to remedy baldness, cancer, sore toes and hemorrhoids, rejuvenate cells, restore beauty and lengthen life. His most popular concoctions were Hollywood Pep Tonic, Antediluvian Desert Herb Tea, and Mo-Hair.
Leaving a string of lawsuits, investigations and failed resorts behind , Springer moved to California in the late 1930s, and in 1944 filed mining claims on 12,800 acres of federal land around Soda Springs . He then built the Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Spa with the labor of homeless men bussed in from Los Angeles and given room and board . While Springer later used this “charity” to justify Zzyzx’s tax-exempt status , others note that he also took control of the men’s social security checks via the his post office, only doling out cash after charging them for his largess .
The sprawling complex included a two-story hotel called The Castle, a church, radio station, private airfield (the Zyport), 60 cabins, mineral baths, and falsely advertised “hot” springs. The name Zzyzx was chosen so the enterprise could be marketed as the “last word in health.”
Springer gave sermons twice daily over loud-speakers hidden in the rocks and used the power of his internationally syndicated radio show to draw thousands of people to his Christian health spa .
Meanwhile, by 1955, the Mohave tui chub was on its last legs. It was on the verge of extirpation from its entire native habitat in the Mojave River. The last remaining native population lived in the tiny 9-meters-by-9-meters MC Spring on Springer’s resort where it had miraculously survived his introduction of development, wandering tourists, water diversions and sermons. Had this population been lost, the chub would almost certainly be extinct today.
That year, however, Springer created the centerpiece of Zzyzx resort: Lake Tuendae, a 1.4-acre, palm-tree-lined oasis arrived at by the freshly constructed two-lane Boulevard of Dreams . Fed by the “Enrico Caruso Fountain,” the pond was a healing bath for guests and allegedly the source of the salts in Mo-Hair, which he sold to guests and his radio congregation as a cure for baldness. For reasons unknown, Springer transplanted tui chub from MC Spring to the lake, accidentally carrying out the most important action in the history of Mohave tui chub conservation: replicating the world’s last remaining relict population.
The chub thrived in its new habitat, which has since become one of the species’ largest, most stable populations. All tui chub populations created since 1955, and all populations in existence today, were ultimately sourced from Lake Tuendae as the MC Spring population is too small to support translocations [1, 3, 9].
Springer’s empire was expanding as well. His sermons were now broadcast on 221 U.S. and 102 foreign radio stations, his health remedies were selling rapidly, and his income swelled with the sale of land parcels at the edge of Zzyzx, promising to create a permanent Christian community in need of his services .
In the late 1960s, it all began to unravel when a civil suit was filed alleging that Mo-Hair did not increase hirsuteness. Singer had been sued over his remedies many times, but this one drew the attention of the American Medical Association and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The former had been following Singer since 1929 and 1935 declared him “a person with an ignorance of the human body and its processes that is wide and deep, who by virtue of an unblushing effrontery, combined with a flair for garrulity, dupes an ignorant public” . Now in 1969, it proclaimed him the “King of Quacks” . The latter prosecuted him for false advertising. The Internal Revenue Service began an investigation, and most calamitously, the Bureau of Land Management sought not only to stop the land sales, but to seize the entirety of Zzyzx, alleging that Singer had illegally taken public lands as his own by filing false mining claims.
Years of court battles ensued. In the end, the self-described “last of the old-time medicine men”  was sentenced to 60 days in jail (he served 41) and Zzyzx was returned to the public domain in 1974 [1, 7]. In 1994, it became part of the Mojave National Preserve.
The Soda Springs wetland complex consists of three nearby subpopulations:
- MC Spring (=Mohave Chub Spring): MC Springs is the only existing relict population and, via its replication in Lake Tuendae, has served as the founding source of all currently existing populations . At three meters in diameter, it is the smallest subpopulation at Soda Springs, supporting just 20 to 60 small fish in 1981-1982 .
- Lake Tuendae: Lake Tuendae was excavated in 1955 by Curtis Howe Springer . Measuring 150 meters by 40 meters (1.4 acres), it has a maximum depth of 3.3 feet and is maintained by pumping from the Zzyzx Well. It was populated with Mohave tui chub from MC Springs shortly after 1955.
- Three Bats Pond (also called West Pond). Three Bats Pond is a 60-meter-by-70-meter water-filled mine shaft that was enlarged by Springer, probably to create the appearance he was mining as required by his mining claims . It is fed by a natural spring and possibly a second spring and groundwater seepage. Heavy pumping from the Zzyzx Well reduces water levels in Three Bats Pond.
Because it experiences greater water quality extremes, Three Bat’s tui chubs are smaller than Lake Tuendae’s. A fish kill occurred in 1981, possibly due to high pH, low dissolved oxygen, and/or ammonia toxicity  and the entire population was lost in 1984 due to poor water quality .
2. LARK SEEP, CHINA LAKE NAVAL AIR WEAPONS STATIONS
Lark Seep is a perennial wetland created in 1945 by discharge from the City of Ridgecrest’s wastewater treatment plant . The G1 Channel, G1 Seep, George Channel and North Channel were later dug to carry water from Lark Seep farther away from the facility.
In 1971, 425 Mohave tui chubs were transplanted from MC Spring to Lark Seep . An additional 75 fish were transplanted in 1976 . The chub has since been established in G1 Channel, G1 Seep, George Channel and North Channel .
In 1984, it was the species’ largest population .
3. CAMP CADY STATE WILDLIFE AREA
In 1986, the California Department of Fish and Game excavated two small ponds in the Camp Cady State Wildlife Area and introduced Mohave tui chubs . The ponds are fed from a water pump. They each supported approximately 500 fish.
In 1991, the east pond was drained and lined with plastic to solve a seepage problem . In 2003, the east pond dried up because the property caretaker became ill and neglected it. There is only one pond at Camp Cady now, maintained by Fish and Game volunteers.
4. LEWIS CENTER, ACADEMY OF ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE
The Lewis Center, Academy of Academic Excellence is a K-12 charter school in Apple Valley, Calif. straddling the Mojave River . It manages 138 acres of its 150-acre campus for wildlife.
In 2004, Molly Estes and Amanda Pearson, two students at the Academy, attended a National Park Service-sponsored workshop on recovery of the Mohave tui chub . They began a project which in 2008 resulted in 548 tui chub from Lark Seep being introduced to the Deppe Pond and Tui Slough refuges on the Mojave River Campus of the Lewis Center . A drainage pond between the school and the Mojave River, Deppe Pond was drained, expanded, reshaped, and lined by students, Boy Scouts, volunteers and community members. Tui Slough was excavated by students, Boy Scouts and volunteers. By 2011, the two pond population had grown to 1,560 fish .
5. MORNING STAR MINE, MOHAVE NATIONAL PRESERVE
In October 2011, 1,000 tui chub from Lark Seep and Soda Spring were introduced to the Morning Star Mine in the Mohave National Preserve . The 1-acre, groundwater fed site is an abandoned mining pit.
POPULATIONS ELIMINATED AFTER 1970 LISTING
* PARADISE SPA
In 1967, the Bureau of Land Management and the California Department of Fish and Game introduced 50 tui chubs from Soda Spring to Paradise Spa, an artificial pond south of Las Vegas in Clark County, Nev. [1, 10]. The population failed “a few years” later . We can find no record of the failure year, only that it was not present in 1981 . As there is no evidence that it was viable or even extant in late 1970, we do not regard it as post-1970 elimination. It is included here because it was reported as being extant at the time of listing in the 1984 federal recovery plan .
* TWO HOLE SPRING
On Aug. 20, 1970—two months before the tui chub was listed as an endangered species—41 fish were introduced to Two Hole Spring, but the population did not become established and was absent in June 1971 . On July 9, 1971, 150 additional fish were reintroduced, but also failed to establish and were missing by July 21, 1971 . Because it was never established, we do not regard it as post-1970 elimination. It is included here because it was reported as being extant at the time of listing in the 1984 federal recovery plan .
1. PIUTE SPRINGS
On Dec. 18-19, 1969, 150 fish were introduced to Piute Springs at the base of Piute Wash on Bureau of Land Management land northwest of Needles, Calif. [10, 14]. The wash is subject to flash flooding. Fish were not present in the winter of 1970 following a flood and the population was feared to have been eliminated . It is unknown whether the population survived and/or additional introductions were made, but it was present in 1976 and eliminated by 1978 .
2. SOUTH COAST BOTANICAL GARDEN
On Jan. 27, 1970, 147 fish were introduced to the South Coast Botanical Garden. The pond was drained by 1972 (after the fish were relocated elsewhere) . Fifty-five fish were introduced later that year, and were augmented with 105 fish in 1975. None were present in 1976.
3. DOS PALMAS SPRINGS
On May 25, 1972, 100 fish were introduced to Dos Palmas Springs, but were absent by 1980 .
4. LION COUNTRY SAFARI PONDS
On June 1, 1972 and March 28, 1975, 822 fish were introduced to Lion Country Safari Ponds . The population was present in January 1974 but absent by November 1977.
5. EATON CANYON NATURE CENTER
On June 5, 1972, 20 fish were introduced to the Eaton Canyon Nature Center . The population later failed .
6. BUSCH GARDENS
On June 27, 1972, 49 fish were introduced to Busch Gardens . The population later failed .
7. DESERT DISCOVERY CENTER
Sixty chubs were placed in a 300-gallon display tank at the Bureau of Land Management’s Desert Discovery Center (then called the Barstow Way Station) on July 22, 1975 . The population was augmented on July 1, 1981. In 1984, the population size was 50 to 60 fish. The population died around 1995 when maintenance of the tank stopped . Because of its small size, display use and vulnerability to extinction, it was never classified as a conservation population by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service .
8. DESERT RESEARCH STATION
This 30-meter-by-30-meter pond near Hinckley, Calif. was established with 16 introduced fish on Dec. 12, 1978 . It was augmented with 126 fish from Soda Springs in 1981 and 56 fish from Lark Seep in 1986 [1, 4]. In 1984, the population size was 2,000 to 4,000 . The population died in 1992 when the Barstow Unified School District closed the facility .
9. LAKE NORCONIAN
On Feb. 8, 1978, an unknown number of fish were introduced to Lake Norconian, but the population had failed by February 1980 .
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