2020 Magazine - Silver

Maya L. Kapoor told the complex story of the threatened Yaqui catfish, the only catfish native to the Western United States. A history of colonization and anthropogenic climate change have destroyed the animal’s natural desert habitat, putting it under threat of extinction. “The current extinction crisis speaks to an uncomfortable truth,” writes Kapoor. “In a land of finite resources, every choice, big or small,” she says, “means choosing what kinds of habitat exist, even far away from town. And that means choosing which species survive.” Kapoor’s careful and thorough reporting presents a story beyond the fate of a single species, weaving together meticulously recorded field data from local research teams, a rich tapestry of Indigenous history and the deeply entrenched impact of colonization on the American west. “Maya L. Kapoor’s gorgeous narrative of scientists working to save an endangered desert catfish masterfully captures so many urgent issues of our time,” said author and freelance journalist Christie Aschwanden, including “the lingering effects of colonialism, Indigenous rights, U.S.-Mexico relations, Trump’s border wall, and the vexing science of how to save a species from extinction.” Maya Kapoor said she had read an academic article in 2017 predicting the imminent extinction of the Yaqui catfish in the United States. “It’s rare to watch a species going extinct in real time, so I wanted to report on the history and possible future of this species, and of the Southwestern rivers where it evolved,” Kapoor said.