Yet another introduction

Last year I made a point of trying to find and photograph some of the exotic animals introduced in Texas, like blackbucks and various deer species.  As a state full of hunters, plenty of interesting critters have been released into the wild to make killing and eating more interesting[1].

According to The Handbook of Texas Online, “more species and greater numbers of exotic big game are in Texas than anywhere else in North America.”  It goes on to say that the “most numerous species have developed substantial free-ranging populations.”  These include chital, nilgai antelope, and blackbuck from India; sika deer from Southeast Asia; mouflon sheep from Sardinia and Corsica; fallow deer from Asia Minor and southern Europe; and wild boar from Europe[2].

My list of photographic targets included all of those and more, including the aoudad (a.k.a. barbary sheep, arui or waddan; Ammotragus lervia) from North Africa, another free-ranging exotic in the Lone Star State.

Two aoudads (a.k.a. barbary sheep, arui or waddan; Ammotragus lervia) resting near a fallen tree (2009_05_22_020816_f)

In the unrelenting heat of May somewhere on a dirt road that wound through the hills, I caught a lucky break: some aoudads resting in a clearing.  One of them had tucked itself so far beneath the fallen tree that only its horns and the top of its head were clearly visible.  The other lay comfortably in the grass where he could be seen clearly.  Still, I wanted something other than drowsy shots of half-conscious critters.  So I drove on.  And found just what I was looking for.

A female aoudad (a.k.a. barbary sheep, arui or waddan; Ammotragus lervia) resting with her young (2009_05_22_020809)

As I rounded the hillside, there nestled together on the side of the road was a female with her young[3].  By the time I snapped the photo, she was already beginning to stand up.  The baby quickly followed, and before I knew it both vanished down the hillside.  It was enough, though.  That smile-inducing child comfortably leaning against its mother was enough to satisfy my aoudad craving.  It was more than I expected to see.

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[1] The interesting thing about all the exotic game animal introductions in Texas is that the state has the largest population of white-tailed deer compared to any other U.S. state or Canadian province.  The current estimate is that there are more than four million whitetails roaming around the state.  It begs the question of why so many (almost 100) exotic species have been let loose here.  (The obvious answer: stupidity.  See note [2] below.)

[2] Many of the exotic introduced species have since become pests, although the aoudad has yet to reach that status.  And because the majority of these nonnative animals are ill adapted to the Texas climate and ecology, they die out in large numbers during the extremes.  For example, I mentioned in June 2009 that entire herds of chital died out and wild boars were starving because of our last drought.

[3] Though called barbary sheep, aoudads are not actually sheep.  They are caprids, a type of goat-antelope bovid.  And since they’re not true sheep, I’m not convinced the young are called lambs or cossets, the females ewes, or the males rams, hence my avoidance of those terms.

17 thoughts on “Yet another introduction”

    1. Since childhood I knew about some of the exotics here, Ted, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I investigated it and realized the scope of the introductions. Most people know about Japanese honeysuckle and European starlings, but I was amazed at the number of game animals that had been let loose in the state. Very unfortunate.

      And thanks! I couldn’t have asked for a better catch than the mother with her child. That was an unexpected gift.

  1. Hi Jason, so glad to be making my way back to my favorite blogs.

    The problem of free-roaming exotic animals in Texas sure troubles me. It is not the animals’ fault that they were brought here, but I’m upset that Texas allows exotic animals in and our native animals to go out.

    As for the deer, it seems to me that we would have much better population control if we Texans tolerated the presence of our native canid and felid predators. The balance of the ecosystem is off, IMO.

    All that said, there’s nothing quite like an adorable baby animal resting with its mother – wonderful picture, and great timing!

    1. I hear you, Amber. Spending a week in Mexico left me scrambling to catch up with everybody.

      I know some of the exotics were introduced to replace extirpated species, but most of them were introduced to expand hunting opportunities. I find that troubling. And you’re right about balance. White-tailed deer numbers are increasing and their range is increasing–especially here in Texas–and a great deal of that stems from the unbalanced ecosystem, from predators to food sources to habitat changes.

  2. The idea of randomly populating an area with exotics just ‘to see’ what might survive, and then have those animals suffer and die in significant numbers during extremes of weather, has me clutching my scalp in despair. Are these animals released as part of an official state programme, or is really just hunters doing so ‘under the wire’ to provide themselves with a more diverse ‘bag’?

    The photographs of mother and offspring are beautiful and touching. Well done Jason. I think that you admirably demonstrate the best kind of ‘shooting’… the kind without a gun!

    1. The releases started as official state projects, Clive, but also there has been quite a bit of unofficial releasing by private citizens. The state didn’t take it seriously until it was too late: almost 100 species and several hundred thousand individual animals. Like all introductions, it’s not until the problem is out of control that anyone stands back and realizes the mess that’s been made.

      Even before I became a vegan, I never liked hunting. Just wasn’t my thing. Shooting with a camera, though, is definitely the kind of hunting I enjoy!

  3. I agree with Amber. Here in the UK we have no larger predators any more, and folk are far too quick pick up a gun to blast the hell out of the smaller ones. I had a conversation not so long ago with someone in this valley talking about laying snares for foxes who may (note the ‘may’) take lambs. I argued against such action, knowing that foxes in general won’t bother with healthy lambs. (Not to mention that snares are also cruel and illegal!) And of course the irony is that with too few predators, the neighbourhood is seething with rabbits this year, and yet no-one is out shooting them for the pot!

    As for myself, well, I just don’t have the killing gene. When safe to do so I still swerve in the road to avoid putting a rabbit under my wheels, even though they’re wreaking havoc in my garden!

    1. We have the same problem with predators being hunted too much. They’re considered a “possible threat” to livestock, so they’re trapped and killed and pushed from their territories. That leaves no check on prey animals, hence the explosion of white-tailed deer throughout North America. It’s unfortunate that such a heavy-handed imbalance creates ripples of instability throughout nature, so we’re left to chase one problem after another, and usually the fixes cause yet more ripples.

      For example: A bobcat who’d been living in a North Texas neighborhood was considered a threat, so a private citizen put out a claw trap (illegal, of course). The bobcat lost a leg. A year later the neighborhood is overflowing rabbits, and the citizens are complaining. I have no sympathy.

      1. I started to write about how angry it makes me to hear that citizens resorted to illegal and cruel methods to eliminate the erroneously-perceived threat of the bobcat…but then it was only a string of curse-words.

  4. Curse away Amber. It sounds as though the claw-trap-setter could do with a spot of bad karma.

    Hrrrumphhhhh! Of course I don’t really mean the above. No wishing ill. Education, dialogue and showing by example should be the means of change, though sometimes I idly dream of donning my magic flying cape of invisibility and smiting offenders when they least expect it!

  5. aoudads!!! Or as I like to call them, Aouuuuudadddy’s! Man I love these guys, even though they are introduced. I’d see them every day in the field in Texas. Sometimes the babies would get really close to me (because I was so sly and quite watching the birds, they wouldn’t notice me). So glad you put these pictures up – so sweet! Love the second one. (I have some really excellent Texas exotic stories by the way…they include hyenas, camels, baboons, water or cape buffalo..etc).

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  7. The angle at which momma has her head as she starts to rise makes for a very captivating, movement-filled photo…yet babe’s calm repose brings the whole thing back to earth. GREAT shot.

    1. Thanks, C! And you hit it precisely. The mother had just started leaning away to stand but the baby hadn’t picked up on it yet. A split second later and both were on their feet and turning down the hillside.

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