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Panhandle Pronghorns Get New Home on the Range
MARFA — Two hundred Panhandle pronghorns got a new home on the range this week as Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists transported the animals 500 miles for release on the Marfa Plateau both to bolster the diminished Trans-Pecos herd and help researchers determine why the West Texas herd has been in decline in recent years.
"This is a win-win for all concerned, since removing surplus pronghorns from the northwestern Panhandle will help minimize crop depredation, " said Shawn Gray, TPWD’s Alpine-based mule deer and pronghorn program leader. "This relocation is also going to help us try to figure out what has been causing pronghorn numbers in the Trans-Pecos to drop."
Helicopter pronghorn trapping operations began on a ranch 8 miles southwest of Dalhart at daybreak Wednesday and were expected to continue on other ranches in Dallam County through Friday.
The last of the first day’s catch was released about 1 a.m. Thursday, bringing to 49 the number of animals successfully released on the Hip-O Ranch 4.5 miles west of Marfa in Presidio County. Four other Presidio County ranches also were scheduled to receive pronghorns.
"We’re very pleased with how the operation has gone, " said TPWD regional Wildlife Division director Billy Tarrant, who along with Gray has been coordinating the trap-and-release effort, the largest antelope transfer the department has undertaken in decades. Also playing a major role in the operation is Dr. Louis Halverson, director of the Borderlands Research Institute for Natural Resource Management at Sul Ross.
Some 35 TPWD personnel, augmented by graduate students from Sul Ross State University in Alpine, traveled to Dalhart for the trapping, an operation stemming from the establishment of the Trans-Pecos Pronghorn Working Group — a coalition of landowners, biologists, hunting guides and scientists — in 2009.
Here’s how the Panhandle operation went:
Using net guns, crew members with Quicksilver Air, Inc. — a chartered private helicopter company — would ensnare a pronghorn from above, then jump from the low-hovering chopper to quickly blindfold and hobble the animal. Snug in a sling, it and up to four companions would be flown to a staging area. Once the animals were lowered to the ground, ground personnel carried each pronghorn to a stretcher for examination and aging by veterinarians and biologists.
Workers took each animal’s temperature along with blood and feces samples. The pronghorns also received a mild sedative. Then an ear tag was attached. In addition, 80 of the animals received light-weight radio-telemetry tracking collars.
Once this process was completed, which took an average of eight minutes per animal, the pronghorns were placed in hay-lined enclosed trailers for the nine-hour drive from the Panhandle to the Marfa area.
Data gathered during and after the relocation effort will be used by researchers in their effort to determine a reason for the decline in the once-robust Trans-Pecos pronghorn herd. While some 10,000 pronghorns roam the Panhandle, the herd in the Trans-Pecos is estimated at 4,700 — a record low number.
Tarrant said another 200 pronghorns will be trapped in the Panhandle and relocated to West Texas next year.
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