TYLER, Texas (KETK) – A native reptile species is making its way back into East Texas thanks to the Caldwell Zoo’s yearslong effort.

Texas Horned Lizards were once widespread across Texas, southern United States and northern Mexico. Due to habitat loss and invasive fire ants the species has faced challenges in the wild, causing the population to decrease.

“Historically, they were arranged all over east Texas. In the last 40 or so years that population has just receded westward. You don’t find them much in central Texas anymore. You don’t find them at all in east Texas,” said Nathan Rains, a wildlife diversity biologist for Texas Parks and Wildlife to Texas Standard.

Four years ago, the Caldwell Zoo opened their Texas Horned lizard Conservation Center to safely breed the lizards and release hatchings into protected areas that are in their original, natural range.

According to a release by Caldwell Zoo, the conservation center provides everything the lizards will need including custom built habitats, egg incubators and hand-picked meals. After weeks of care, the young hatchlings are then transported to reserved release areas where they can grow and thrive in the wild.