Pronghorns and Landowners Benefit From Relocation Project
About 125 pronghorns have new homes and landowners in northeastern New Mexico have fewer threats to their crops following a successful capture-relocation operation by the Department of Game and Fish.
The pronghorns captured Jan. 12-15 on the UU-Bar Ranch near Cimarron were released on U.S. Bureau of Land Management properties northwest of Roswell and east of Truth or Consequences. Fifteen pronghorn does also were released near Fort Stanton, where graduate students will monitor them and their fawns.
“All involved spoke in hushed tones, seemingly out of respect for the animals they were tenderly working with and trying valiantly to calm,” Thomas said. “My hats and gloves are off to them.”
The operation was the fifth of its kind since 2009, when the department resumed pronghorn trapping after an 11-year hiatus. Before that, traps were fairly common as the agency continued its efforts to relocate pronghorns and build the statewide population. Using an improved version of a wing trap invented in 1937 by department wildlife biologist T. Paul Russell, the agency gradually helped bring statewide pronghorn populations from a low of 1,740 reported by Aldo Leopold in 1916 to around 40,000 today.
While the expanded pronghorn population has been good for the native species and hunters, it has caused problems for some landowners when too many hungry pronghorns compete with agricultural operations. Using traps, the department has been successful easing stress on crops while relocating pronghorns to less populated areas. Captured pronghorns also have been traded to neighboring states for desert bighorn sheep and Gould’s turkeys to bolster New Mexico’s populations of those species.
“These pronghorn traps and the skilled biologists and staff who build and operate them are among our department’s biggest successes,” Department Director Alexandra Sandoval said. “Their hard work, with help from our landowner partners, is keeping our state’s pronghorn population healthy for hunters and everyone who enjoys native wildlife.”
Elizabeth Thomas, a neighbor of the UU-Bar Ranch, said she was impressed by this month’s trap when she stopped by to observe. “It was something I don’t believe I will ever forget,” Thomas said. “The coordination, camaraderie, preparedness, communication and gut-wrenching hard work were truly incredible. Most inspiring was everyone’s effort to protect the animals and each other.”
Only one pronghorn died during the operation, a remarkable feat considering the animals’ extreme sensitivity to stress and heat.
The wing trap is a simple V-shaped design, with fences set up along traditional antelope routes. Crews set up the trap days in advance, pounding posts and lining wire and netting with 8-foot tarps so the trapped animals can’t see out or easily escape as they are driven into a small corral, first by a helicopter, then by a line of crew members who fall in behind and block the gaps. As the animals approach the corral, a hidden gate is quickly closed behind them before they realize they are in a trap.
Once they are in a the corral, the pronghorns are allowed to settle down a bit before they are forced into a padded, darkened chute, where two crew members catch and carry the animals to waiting veterinarians. To help keep them calm once they are caught, the animals’ hooves are not allowed to touch the ground until they are released into the trailers.
Veterinarians were on hand during the capture to help the pronghorns survive their journey. Before they were loaded in trailers, each pronghorn had its horns clipped for safety and was given shots to fend off parasites and infection. They also received vitamin supplements, ear tags and a tranquilizer for the road. Some were fitted with radio collars so they could be tracked in their new habitats.
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