High Country News associate editor wins AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Award

Maya Kapoor won a silver in magazine writing for a feature story about the federally threatened Yaqui catfish.



November 11, 2020

Maya L. Kapoor, associate editor at High Country News, has won a Silver 2020 AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Award in the category of magazine writing for her story: “The only catfish native to the Western U.S. is running out of water.”

The awards, which are presented by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), recognize distinguished science reporting for a general audience. The program, endowed by The Kavli Foundation and open to journalists worldwide, is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2020. There were entries from 54 countries this year.

Kapoor’s article 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 on the brink of extinction.

“The current extinction crisis speaks to an uncomfortable truth,” writes Kapoor. “In a land of finite resources, every choice, big or small, means choosing what kinds of habitat exist, even far away from town. And that means choosing which species survive.”

AAAS noted that Kapoor’s careful and thorough reporting delves into a story that reaches 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.”

Kapoor said that she had read an academic article in 2017 predicting the imminent extinction of the Yaqui catfish in the United States. "I was inspired to write this story because it’s rare to watch a species going extinct in real time, so I wanted to report on the history and possible future of the Yaqui catfish, and of the Southwestern rivers where it evolved. I really appreciate that this story struck a chord with the judges, and that readers are interested in the intertwined human and ecological history of the Western United States," she said.

The AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Award winners will receive their awards in a virtual ceremony held in conjunction with the 2021 AAAS Annual Meeting in February. See all of the award-winning journalism here.

For 50 years, High Country News has reported the stories of the Western U.S. that are often overlooked by larger media outlets. The nonprofit news organization has won numerous awards over the years, including the Utne Media Award, the George Polk Award, the Science in Society Award, the Society of Environmental Journalists Award, and many others. 

For more information about High Country News, contact Laura Dixon, events & business partner coordinator, at [email protected] or 207-317-0426.


Note: This release has been updated to reflect that the Yaqui catfish is listed as threatened, not endangered, by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

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