The record-setting freeze that hit Texas over the last week has devasted two species of well-established non-indegenous antelope species in several areas.
The nilgai antelope, a native of India and Pakistan has been free-ranging along the Lower Coast from around Baffin Bay to the Mexico line for more than 80 years.
These very large antelope are notoriously susceptible to extreme cold and we have received a report of more than a dozen dead nilgai found on one eight mile stretch of road with others standing around in very uncharacteristic fashion.
It’s hard to get in-depth reports at the moment with power outages, etc. especially since the majority of nilgai live on two of Texas’ largest private ranches, the King and Kenedy but there is historical precedence.
According to officials with the Texas Tech Natural Science Research Library, a past freeze put a huge hit on the species.
During the severe winter of 1972–1973, 1,400 of 3,300 nilgai (estimated population at the time) were killed by the weather in southern Texas. This die-off was exacerbated by previous brush clearing, which resulted in forage loss and increased competition with livestock and other wildlife.
The much smaller blackbuck antelope is a more widespread species and while there are free-ranging populations in the Edwards Plateau, most live behind game proof fences.
Also from India and Pakistan, they are not the most cold tolerant of animals and there are numerous photos floating around social media of large numbers of blackbuck as well as some axis deer dead on ranches.
We will have more on the impact on these animals that have become an important part of the Texas outdoors economy and are highly valued for their meat (especially nilgai) and revered by sportsmen.
Wild turkeys are fast on their feet and often flee from danger by running instead of taking to the air.
They can however fly quite fast and as each box opened on a private tract of land in Titus County, TX, the flying ability of the wild turkey was on display.
Marked with the logo of the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), these six boxes held six Eastern turkey hens captured in Missouri and transported to Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) officials at the Dallas-Forth Worth Airport.
Working together on restoring the Eastern turkey to East Texas, TPWD and NWTF have forged a powerful partnership that saw hope for this subspecies in the region literally taking flight.
According to TPWD Turkey Program Director Jason Hardin, there are now about 10,000 Eastern turkeys in the region thanks to stocking birds from partner states like Missouri and enhanced management on public and private lands.
It’s a brilliant conservation program and one that has inspired turkey hunters and private landowners to do more to manage forests for turkeys.
This particular turkey release, however, inspired another group of people.
Higher Calling Wildlife’s mothership is the Wild Wishes program that grants wildlife encounters to children with a critical illness or loss of a parent or sibling. To date, the outreach has granted 115 wishes and is working on many more.
“We filmed the release with our smartphones and put together a virtual turkey release for one of our wish families. They have been basically shut-in since COVID started because of health issues with children, so we wanted to do something special for them. We knew they would love seeing the turkeys released, and TPWD and NWTF officials have been very gracious in allowing us to have our kids participate in these releases,” said Lisa Moore, director of the Wild Wishes program.
Emily Odom, 16 of Graham, TX, got to participate in a release in 2020 on the same property and said it was one of our her life highlights.
“I’ve been in the Wild Wishes program since I was nine, and it changed my life so much for the better. Getting to open that box and watching those turkeys fly out was so freeing and inspiring for someone like myself who has had some challenges. I loved it,” she said.
It inspired her so much in fact she went home and did some wild turkey artwork and has begun a program to raise awareness of wildlife conservation through artwork.
“That turkey release helped inspire that. I’m so grateful to the Moore’s for taking me into the Wild Wishes program years ago and for NWTF and TPWD for letting me be part of a release,” she said.
As Emily said, there is something special about seeing those turkeys fly out of the boxes into an area that needs a population boost. East Texas by the early 1980s was essentially devoid of wild turkeys, but thanks to TPWD and NWTF, there is a growing population.
That’s inspirational for turkey hunters, wildlife lovers and a very special group of kids who have been able to take part in person and virtually.
Join The Wildlife Journalist® and award-wining conservationist Chester Moore as he discusses the connection between what we are experiencing in this pandemic setting and what nearly wiped out wild sheep in America in the 1800s.
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a killer-no doubt.
It has caused the death of thousands of whitetail, mule deer, elk and other deer in numerous states and at least two Canadian provinces.
Yet there is some skepticism over what precautions should be taken to prevent its spread.
Several states have considered bans on natural urine-based scents common in deer and elk hunting across America.
Many hunters consider them vital to their hunting success during the rut period when sex-based scents can lure help lure big bucks and bulls into shooting range.
Last week I spoke with Sam Burgeson, the President of Wildlife Research Center and he said his company along with Tink’s are using a special test to detect any possible CWD risk before the product leaves the factory.
He said a commercial laboratory began testing deer urine for the scent companies in 2019, enabling two of the industry’s largest manufacturers to test 100 percent of their natural deer urine products before releasing them to the marketplace.
The laboratory company CWD Evolution has expanded and is testing products for commercial scent manufacturers. Products that have been tested will be authorized to include the “RT-QuIC Tested“ logo.
“We have made major investments as a company to ensure that our products are safe” said Sam Burgeson, President of Wildlife Research Center.
“It is frustrating that government regulators are either ignoring these advances or are unaware that these technologies are readily available. Our industry has not stuck our heads in the sand on this issue but have rolled up our sleeves and taken action to address the very real CWD concerns.”
Burgeson said urine producers participating in the Archery Trade Association’s Deer Protection Program are using best practices to ensure CWD stays out of their herds, and several states have adopted regulations that allow urine sourced from these facilities to be used by hunters.
“Louisiana has adopted regulations that require RT-QuIC testing, and it is hopeful that other states will follow their lead rather than pursuing blanket bans that prohibit traditional hunting methods and would hurt responsible hunting product companies,” he said.
Burgeson said states proposing bans are getting their recommendations from a document created by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies in 2018 that recommends a series of best management practices for dealing with CWD.
He said it did not include recommendations from the deer scent industry.
CWD is real. CWD is a problem. But CWD in many ways is mysterious.
There is still much speculation about its long-term impact, potential reach and even how it can spread.
It is currently causing changes in the way wildlife managed.
Texas recently adopted a policy of no longer translocating mule deer which are sometimes moved from the Panhandle to Trans Pecos or from one part of those two regions. They don’t want to risk CWD transmission.
Montana recetnly completed a survey that showed 86 positives in a test that included 86 whiteails, 53 mule deer, two moose and an elk. That state is seeking more ways to detect and curtail CWD.
It is good to see members of the hunting industry taking positive steps to stop its spread and further encroachment on the hunting lifestyle.
Consider this a strike against CWD and a positive strike against a force that is as complex and controversial.
An Instagram follower asked this after me posting about attending the 7th World Mountain Ungulates Conference in Bozeman, Mont.
And it is a good question.
Ungulate, after all, is sort of a strange word.
The quick explanation is an ungulate is an animal with hooves and a “mountain ungulate” is any of the variety of sheep, goats, deer and antelope that inhabit the hills and highlands of the world.
And Sept. 10-13 The Wild Sheep Foundation along with partners like Safari Club International Foundation brought together researchers from throughout North America and around the world to report on the latest findings and ponder questions of mountain ungulate management.
Researchers and managers from Mexico spoke of forward-thinking and effective desert bighorn sheep restoration in the state of Sonora. The Sierra El Alamo project spearheaded by landowner Javier Artee and family and The Wild Sheep Foundation has seen nearly 100 bighorns restored in a former hotbed for the species.
Tayler Lasharr from the University of Wyoming detailed a study on the issue on whether current harvest practices for bighorns are evolutionarily sustainable.
It was a hot topic of the event and was touched on in several presentations.
This particular study concluded that “…While harvest regimes are an important consideration, horn growth of harvested male mountain sheep has remained largely stable, indicating that evolutionary changes are an unlikely consequence of harvest in most of North America.”
Manzoor Qureshi of Gilgit, Pakistant presented “Trophy Hunting As Sustainable Use And Conservation Tool” and dealt specifically with markhor which are highly prized by hunters around the world.
It was noted hunters have paid upwards of $100,000 for markhor there and the country was also looking to build non-consumptive wildlife-based tourism from the presence of snow leopards and other wildlife.
The hunter’s claim that money from hunting goes back into local communities was questioned by some of the presenters during Q&A sessions.
And while no definitive answers were given, as to actual percentages that stay in villages and rural communities, anecdotally most conceded that hunter dollars were a boon to conservation and a barrier between wildlife and poachers.
Questions on equitable dispensation of hunter dollars remained.
Not all presenters dealt with hunting-centric issues.
Tal Halevy of Ben Gurion University of the Negeve in Israel for example spoke on Nubian ibex moving into cities and villages and becoming accustomed to people.
It was surprising to hear that more than half of the Nubian ibex population dwells in Israel and that these typically shy cliff-dwellers were showing an ability to adapt to populated areas.
Predation was a hot topic with an opening address focusing on changing behavior in North American wolves and their impact on wildlife and presentations addressing cougar and snow leopard predation on ungulates.
As would be expected, opinions in the room differed on predators but tempers never flared, although they might have sparkled a time or two.
Recapping the whole conference would be a foolish endeavor as it was simply too detailed and in-depth to give justice here.
My mission is to give my perspective as a wildlife journalist who is equally be at home with a rifle (or bow) in my hands as he is reporting on mountain ungulate management.
The following are my takeaways:
*Mountain sheep hunters in particular are serious about getting management right. They have no problem questioning management from a scientific level and are willing to adjust if necessary.
*On the same token, mountain sheep (and goat) hunters and related conservation organizations are the ones funding the vast majority of management of these species. There is little money in North American fish and wildlife departments to fund these initiatives, much less in poorer Asian countries. The current global hunting system is not perfect, but if it falls because of political pressure, mountain ungulate populations will suffer in many areas-greatly.
*Predator management in relation to ungulates will likely be the single greatest challenge facing the North American wildlife community. With the scandal that came with the “Cecil The Lion” story and a genuine ignorance on predators by the American public, dealing with increasing wolf numbers and cougars in particular will be a monumental challenge going forward.
*Genetics is opening a new level of understanding of these magnificent creatures. And it may very well be a key to saving them. An attempt in Washington to create a strain of domestic sheep free from diseases communicable to bighorns could help ease some conflicts between federal land grazers and wild sheep managers.
The 7th World Mountain Ungulates Conference was a remarkable event that brought together scientists, wildlife managers, landowners, conservationists, hunters and non-hunters.
It was a gathering that shows while there are many differences when it comes to wildlife of the highlands, there are talented people doing great things to us conserve them.
Seeing that long was worth the trip from Texas to Montana but of course seeing a grizzly sow with cubs in Yellowstone before the conference began wasn’t bad either.
Both inspired me to report more on the creatures that live in and around the mountains of the world.
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973 brought protected status to dozens of then-dwindling North American animals.
Among the first listings were the red wolf, black-footed ferret and ivory-billed woodpecker.
Had the ESA been established in 1900, the American bison would have been listed along with the wild turkey and pronghorn. All of those are game animals now hunted across multiple states with thriving populations.
“It is unprecedented to have so many species come back in such a big way and it has everything to do with the value put on those species and their habitat by hunter-conservationists like our founder Teddy Roosevelt,” said Keith Balfourd with the Boone & Crockett Club.
Since 1900 bison bounced back from 1,000 to 300,000 and wild turkeys went from 30,000 to nearly seven million.
Pronghorns which fell below 20,000 animals now number more than a million.
And it doesn’t stop there.
Whitetail would not have been listed as “endangered” but their population stood at only 500,000 throughout the continent. Now it’s 15,000,000.
Elk were down to 40,000 and now there are more than a million.
Contrast that with the ivory-billed woodpecker which is functionally extinct and the red wolf that exists only through a very small captive-bred introduced population in North Carolina and in various zoos and wildlife centers.
Some ESA-listed animals like the bald eagle have had huge success stories but the rise of game populations managed for hunting rarely gets mentioned in the corporate wildlife media.
One of the first actions of dedicated hunter Roosevelt and the Boone & Crockett Club was to push for the creation of Yellowstone National Park as it was one of the last intact ecosystems with abundant game.
“Roosevelt and the early proponents of Yellowstone faced many obstacles including mining, timber and railroad interests. But they prevailed and Yellowstone’s preservation made it possible to restore dwindling species to other areas,” Balfour said.
Elk from Yellowstone were transplanted to areas where they had been eliminated and so were bison.
As newly created game laws created protection for these animals their numbers began to multiply where they had been stocked. This quickly became the template for wildlife restoration in America.
The key reason for the wild turkey’s monumental increase was bringing excess birds from areas of abundance and releasing into zones with no birds. This practice continues today and has also been a cornerstone for the restoration of everything from bighorn sheep to gray wolves.
What Roosevelt, the early members of the Boone & Crockett Club and other early conservationists tapped into was that wildlife needed areas of sanctuary. And once you establish this, excess animals can be taken from there to areas of need.
To some it might seem ironic.
Hunters pushed for huge areas to be shut down to hunting and then helped create licensing systems that ensured hunting as restricted and managed by the government. On top of that they added licenses and excise taxes on sporting goods to fund conservation projects.
But these hunters knew without making sacrifices the animals they pursued would have been gone forever.
They were visionaries and the pioneering work they did gave hope that wildlife could continue to thrive in the face of growing human population and industrialization. It is not a perfect system but it works better than anything else on the planet thus far.
Many have had a hand in wildlife conservation in North America but few have had the impact of early hunter-conservationists like Roosevelt and the Boone & Crockett Club.
Their legacy lives on-in the woods, on the mountains and across the fruited plain.