June 12, 2006

Wyoming Antelope Heading to Mexico

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Some Wyoming antelope are bound for sunny Mexico. Wildlife biologists have captured dozens of pronghorns at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne for transport to Mexico, where some herds are near extinction.

Mexican biologists are using the captured antelope fawns to increase depleted pronghorn herds in the Baja California and Sonora regions.

Workers from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the Air Force base and Mexico are using long-handled nets to capture the fawns.

"There's an art to this," said Jay Lawson, chief of the wildlife division of the state game department. He said the key is getting to the young animals before they're able to stand up. Once they're on their feet, he said they're almost as fast as the adults.

Clearly, Wyoming has the animals to spare. The game department estimates Wyoming has about 519,000 antelope, while last year's U.S. Census estimate put the state's human population at 509,294.

Mexican biologists got permission from the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission in April to capture and transport up to 150 pronghorn fawns. Mexican biologist Jorge Cancino is heading the relocation program. He's been working for years to try to save two Mexican pronghorn subspecies from extinction.

Scientists believe there are five subspecies of antelope in North America, including the peninsular pronghorn in Baja and the Sonoran pronghorn, found in southwestern Arizona and northwestern Mexico.

Once the Wyoming antelope are flown to Mexico, biologists there will check their DNA to see if they closely resemble DNA in the endangered Mexican herds. If they're close, they will be raised and their offspring released to augment the existing wild herds. If not, the Wyoming antelope can be released where they won't crossbreed with local populations.

"We've got those folks up from Mexico right now and we've got some of our people working with them and it's going really well," Lawson said. "We've done this before and we've got the techniques down and it's been moving right along."

Lawson said pronghorn fawn transplants from Wyoming to Mexico have been going on since 2000 and have been successful.

"Techniques continue to improve each year with minimal, if any, loss," Lawson said. "We've had an incredibly low mortality rate."

The capture program also helps the Air Force base, Lawson said. He said antelope numbers have increased there in recent years, in part because of a string of mild winters.

"Those antelope get over populated there and they walk through the gates and are getting hit by cars almost on a daily basis," Lawson said. "And it's not feasible to hunt in such an enclosed area, so we see this as a real positive."


Information from: Star-Tribune, http://www.casperstartribune.net