For Immediate Release—Wild Wishes® grants wildlife encounters to children and teens with a critical illness or loss of a parent or sibling.
Part of the outreach of Chester and Lisa Moore’s nonprofit Kingdom Zoo Wildlife Center® outreach, the 100th child received a life-changing wildlife encounter in Sept. 2019.
Higher Calling Wild Wishes Expeditions goes to a new level by taking teens from the program on expeditions to teach wildlife conservation through mentorship in wildlife photography, social media awareness raising and fundraising skills.
“We noticed that many of the young people we work with who face these great challenges are looking for a way to help and give back. We are creating these opportunities to give young people an avenue to not only understand conservation but a way to get involved,” said Chester Moore.
Two pilot projects initiated the program in 2019.
Wild Wishes girl Reannah changed her degree and school (now a Texas Tech student) to work with conservation after her wish encounter as a high school senior in 2018.
“It give me even more inspiration to pursue a career in working in wildlife conservation.”
Wild Wishes boys Amos and Jaxon got to take part in a special catch-and-release conservation mission for Guadalupe bass in west-central Texas. The trip was featured in Texas Fish & Game magazine and the boys learned how using the photos they took on the trip could raise awareness to problems facing stream fisheries.
Special challenges usually disqualify young people for experiences like this. We are creating special opportunities for them only.
In 2020 we are doing our first expeditions into Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain National Park as well as our second annual Guadalupe bass trip.
Can you help sponsor one of these trips? Any size donation is appreciated.
Elephant Mountain Wildlife Management Area (WMA)—The chuffing sound of helicopter blades sounded faintly in the distance.
As a crowd of biologists and technicians from the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD), Tech Tech, and Sul Ross University, among others, looked upward, the helicopter appeared.
Flying above the 6,2000-foot peak of Elephant Mountain in this remote area of Brewster County, it looked blurry at first.
But upon approach, details became apparent, and so did it’s cargo.
Two desert bighorn sheep blindfolded and secured in safety gear hung from the helicopter and were soon gently placed on the ground.
After detachment, the ground crew quickly moved the sheep to tables to thoroughly examine them.
They gave the sheep everything from fecal examinations to blood tests and took tiny ear clippings for DNA records.
“I can’t believe I’m getting to see all of this,” said Reannah Hollaway, a first-year wildlife student at Texas Tech.
Reannah is part of our Wild Wishes® program that grants wildlife encounters to youth struggling with critical illness or loss of a parent or sibling.
As a high school senior, Reannah’s initial wish was to encounter sea turtles. But while attending her first school of choice in 2018, she reflected on her wish experience and decided to go into the conservation field.
In fall 2019, she transferred to Texas Tech and now dreams of working on behalf of wildlife.
When TPWD”s Project Leader of Trans Pecos WMAs, Mark Garrett, approached her with a GPS collar in hand, she wasn’t quite sure what was happening.
But as officials brought in a big ram, she realized she was getting to put collar it.
“This will give us much information on its movements and allow us a better understanding of what these sheep are doing after we move them to Black Gap Wildlife WMA,” Garrett said.
After overcoming a few understandable nerves, Hollaway enthusiastically fitted the collar and watched as the crew moved the ram into a transport trailer.
In the course of the next few hours, she took ear clippings and helped take a blood sample from several ewes.
Desert bighorn sheep restoration in Texas in many ways centers on Elephant Mountain WMA. Donated to TPWD in 1986 for sheep propagation, it has been highly productive for desert bighorns, and when the area reaches carrying capacity, TPWD officials move part of the herd to other locations that could use a population boost.
These efforts supported by groups like the Texas Bighorn Society, Wild Sheep Foundation, and Dallas Safari Club have seen bighorns reach a population of around 1,500 in the Trans Pecos.
And after years of importing sheep from states like Nevada, TPWD offcials are now able to use Texas sheep to stock available habitat.
“It’s exciting to see how so many people have rallied around the bighorn program, and we are always excited to be able to take sheep from one place to another to expand their range in the Trans Pecos,” said Froylan Hernandez Texas desert bighorn program leader.
While scanning the area for photo opportunities, I noticed Reannah looking into one of the transport trailers.
“He’s beautiful, and his number is 8,” she said, referring to the identifying ear tag.
“I think I’ll name him Brian. He looks like a Brian.”
The young lady looked at the gorgeous ram in awe, and in her eyes, I could see the same wonder that has kept me enthused about wildlife since I was a little boy.
When business is slow, assignments are challenging, and real-life issues settle in, these moments are what keeps someone who works with wildlife motivated.
As me, my wife Lisa and daughter Faith made the eight-hour trek from Alpine to the Houston area to bring Reannah home; the happenings of the day dominated the conversation.
The sheep were beautiful.
The people were kind and gracious.
The helicopter operation was incredible to witness.
And Reannah getting to take part in this process was unforgettable and inspired a young lady to move forward in her studies and life with enthusiasm.
Ancient pictographs created by first nations people like the Jornada Mogollon of Texas and Fremont Culture of Utah adorn rock walls and caves in the desert Southwest.
Among these rock paintings are striking images of bighorn rams.
It is not clear whether these first nations people hunted sheep, but their reverence was evident.
Today desert bighorns still inspire.
Whether it is wildlife journalists like myself, wildlife biologists, hunters, landowners, or an aspiring student like Reannah, these animals leave an imprint on the human spirit.
Their mere presences move us to make the world a better place for sheep and other wildlife.
When discussing issues impacting bighorn sheep in the United States, three main issues dominate the conversation.
Domestic Sheep Disease Transference
And those should be the three primary concerns but there is a growing threat in the Western United States.
Originally brought over by Spanish explorers in the 1500s, feral hogs have taken a foothold in 31 states and there is no question they will eventually move into all of the Lower 48.
According to an article published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), feral hogs are a major threat to wildlife through water pollution.
“Water polluted from feral swine wallowing can be contaminated with parasites and bacteria such as giardia, salmonella, and pathogenic E. coli that could be transmitted to humans and other animals. This can happen when feral swine use an agricultural water source, such as an irrigation pond…”
They noted since hogs lack sweat glands, wallowing in mud and water is an instinctual behavior necessary for them to maintain a healthy body temperature.
“Unfortunately this behavior has cascading impacts, not only to water quality in individual streams, ponds, and wetlands, but to entire watersheds and ecosystems.”
Looking at a current distribution map, it is easy to see hogs are already established in the entirety of desert bighorn habitat in Texas and California and are also growing in numbers in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Oregon.
In drought years in particular hogs will impact ponds, stock tanks, streams and guzzlers. These of course are crucial to bighorns and other wildlife.
Feral hogs can also carry pseudorabies.
According to USDA officials, pseudorabies is a disease of swine that can also affect cattle, dogs, cats, sheep, and goats.
“Pseudorabies virus (PRV) is a contagious herpesvirus that causes reproductive problems, (abortion, stillbirths), respiratory problems and occasional deaths in breeding and finishing hogs. Infected newborn pigs may exhibit central nervous system clinical signs.”
It is typically spread through direct contact but there are other ways transmission can occur.
“If present on inanimate objects, such as boots, clothing, feed, trucks, and equipment, the virus can also spread from herd to herd and farm to farm.”
Could hogs transfer PRV to domestic sheep that in turn transfer to bighorns?
And that’s a frightening prospect for animals already facing great challenges.
Another potential threat from hogs is predation.
According to officials with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, “wild hogs may prey on fawns, young lambs, and kid goats.”
There is no question hogs could prey on bighorn lambs, especially desert bighorn lambs in the early days of their life. I have found no concrete evidence of hog/wild sheep predation but it remains a possibility.
I will dig more into hog predation on other ungulates in another post but for now just consider what has been presented here.
No one thought 30 years ago feral hogs would now be hunted in New Jersey and more hogs would be killed by hunters in Texas than whitetails.
Could a growing population of hogs in the western United States put more stress on bighorn populations?
I believe it is a possibility, especially the water pollution and disease aspects.