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West Texas Ranchers, Sportsmen, Researchers Partner to Address Pronghorn Loss
ALPINE, Texas — The newly formed “Trans-Pecos Pronghorn Working Group” is turning to laboratory science for answers concerning diminishing numbers of pronghorn antelope in West Texas.
During the first weekend of October, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists, Sul Ross State University — Range and Wildlife Club students and cooperating landowners will be sampling numerous pronghorn harvested by hunters throughout West Texas. These samples will be analyzed for diseases, internal parasites and mineral levels to uncover potential barriers to survivability and reproduction.
Every year, TPWD biologists issue permits to Trans-Pecos landowners to allow hunters to harvest buck pronghorn. Even during extremely low population cycles, a conservative harvest of buck pronghorn has no effect on the viability of the entire herd. However, these harvested animals can provide an excellent source of information to biologists.
Another sampling effort will occur later in the winter by capturing live does and examining them as well. Both the West Texas and Paso del Norte Chapters of Safari Club International have provided significant funding to assist with the costs associated with the collection and analysis of samples.
These actions should provide information to help pronghorn managers identify specific diseases and/or parasites that may be negatively impacting Trans-Pecos pronghorn populations.
The Trans-Pecos Pronghorn Working Group is a team of West Texas landowners, outfitters, TPWD biologists, Borderlands Research Institute personnel and wildlife veterinarians that recently organized to review population information and possible reasons for recent declines. This panel created a plan to better identify potential disease or parasite problems with this important wildlife resource.
Pronghorn historically occurred over most of Texas, but because of habitat loss and over harvest during the late 1800s and early 1900s, populations plummeted. Through the conservative actions of Texas landowners, and protective measures implemented by the Game, Fish and Oyster Commission (the predecessor of TPWD) populations rebounded during the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Currently, pronghorn are found in the grasslands of West Texas and the Panhandle.
Trans-Pecos pronghorn numbers typically ebb and flow with precipitation patterns and reached an estimated high population of over 17,000 animals in 1987. The drought of the 1990’s affected populations tremendously, and numbers bottomed out in 2001 at around 5,000. Increased rainfall bounced numbers back to over 10,000 in 2007. However, pronghorn numbers in the Marfa area declined dramatically by summer of 2008 (adult mortality and low fawn production). An eight-month dry period, a hard late freeze, and increased predation were thought to be the primary culprits. Range conditions improved with increased rainfall, but landowners still reported some loss of adult pronghorn. Additionally, fawn crops in this affected area were extremely low this last summer, despite intensive predator control and favorable range conditions. With many herds so low already, future dry conditions may lead to a complete loss of some pronghorn populations.
Trans-Pecos Pronghorn Working Group Participants: Jon Means (owner, Moon Ranch), Bobby McKnight (owner, McKnight Ranch), Albert and Bill Miller (owners, Miller Ranch), Dr. Dan McBride (DVM; hunting guide), Dr. Ken Waldrup (DVM, Texas Department of State Health Services), Ernie Davis (retired TPWD biologist; hunting guide), Billy Tarrant (TPWD District Leader), Johnny Arredondo (TPWD biologist-Jeff Davis County), Mike Sullins (TPWD biologist-Presidio County), and Dr. Louis Harveson (Director, Borderlands Research Institute, SRSU).
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