Conservation

90 Facts About Exotic Hoofstock and Conservation

You hear a lot of chatter and smack-talk about Texas’ high-fenced ranches and our exotic hoofstock. On a recent MeatEater podcast recorded in Dallas, TX, Steve Rinella made jokes straight out of the gate about it and the audience clapped in agreement. As a new hunter, I was taught that exotic wildlife is harmful to our native animals. I was under the impression that exotic animals were “bad” per se because they take our native species’ land and food, water and shelter resources.

Exotics, and most non-natives, are harmless to our ecosystem. Exotics include aoudad sheep, axis deer, sika deer, fallow deer, blackbuck antelope, nilgai antelope and many more.

I am blessed that I was able to write for the Exotic Wildlife Association and learn the true benefits of exotic hoofstock. It clicked for me that exotics aren’t all that bad. In fact, having exotic species boost our economy. Exotic wildlife is a $1 billion industry supporting over 14,000 jobs. Most importantly, we are saving and conserving these exotics from extinction. Many of the exotics in the U.S. are extinct in their native ecosystems yet are thriving here.

Here are 90 things I learned:

  1. 90% of the world’s population of scimitar horned oryx, dama gazelle and addax antelope live in Texas.
  2. A nilgai’s short horn lacks the ring structure of many other antelope.
  3. According to The Nature Conservancy, “invasive species have contributed directly to the decline of 42% of the threatened and endangered species in the United States. The annual cost to the United States economy is estimated at $120 billion a year, with over 100 million acres (an area roughly the size of California) suffering from invasive plant infestations.”
  4. Addax are a critically endangered species of antelope because of their decline due to poaching, chronic drought and habitat destruction. Less than 100 individuals are thought to exist in the wild today.
  5. All eland has a dewlap, but it’s much larger on males, running almost all the way from the neck down into its chest. The female dewlap has a tuft of hair hanging from the middle.
  6. Although the eland is one of the largest antelopes, it is also the slowest. Eland can trot for hours and are high jumpers, but they cannot even sustain a gallop.
  7. Approximately 76% of all confined exotics are found in the Texas Hill Country.
  8. Axis bucks can be in hard antler any time of the year. They grow and shed antlers on their own clock so in one herd there may be a newly shed buck, a hard-antlered buck and a buck in the velvet
  9. Barbary sheep (Aoudad) are the 4th most common exotic hoofstock in Texas.
  10. Because addax were once found in the extreme conditions of the Sahara and prefer sandy, desert terrain, they can survive almost indefinitely without water by getting the moisture out of the food and dew that condenses on plants. Addax are able to sense changes in humidity and find places where rain has fallen or vegetation is sprouting. They also have a special lining in their stomachs that stores water in pouches to use when dehydrated.
  11. Because of the eland’s rich milk, tasty meat and useful hides, it has made them popular ranch animals and hunting targets. Their meat is highly prized because each animal provides a large quantity.
  12. Blackbuck antelope are ranked as the third most numerous exotic in Texas.
  13. Both female and male aoudad have horns, but the males body size and horn length can be almost double that of a female.
  14. Closely resembling the scimitar horned oryx, the addax can be distinguished by its horns and facial markings. Facial markings include brown or black patches that form an X across the nose.
  15. Concentrate on one or two species and become as knowledgeable as you can about those if you are thinking of owning exotic hoofstock. The more the merrier is not the right thinking for new exotic owners. 
  16. Dama gazelle’s horns are ringed and curved like the letter “s.”
  17. During the rutting season, fallow bucks do not eat.
  18. Eland have pointy and very narrow ears.
  19. There are many exotic animals which include aoudad sheep, axis, sika, fallow, blackbuck antelope, and nilgai.
  20. Also listed as non-indigenous include barasingha, Eld’s deer, hog deer, muntjac, Père David’s deer, red deer, sambar deer.
  21. Exotic, or nonnative, species are animals that live outside of their natural habitat either through natural process or human activity. Exotics are harmless to our ecosystem.
  22. Fallow bucks have palmated or shovel-looking antlers. 
  23. Fallow are sociable and compatible with other species, except for rutting males. 
  24. Fallow are white, two-toned cocoa colored or black. You’ll often see spots on a light brown coat, but coloration is highly varied. Up to 14 variations occur from white through shades of red brown to dark brown and some adults retain their original spotted markings. Whatever color they are born will be the color they retain for life.
  25. Fallow have six types of vocalizations: barking, which is an explosive alarm call used by females; bleating, which is produced by females during parturition or with their young; mewing, given by any deer during submission postures; peeping, produced by fawns in distress or contacting their mothers; wailing, an intense distress sound by a fawn older than 2 days; and groaning, produced by rutting males.
  26. Female eland actually grow longer horns, but with less mass than the males.
  27. Female eland typically weigh 665 pounds but can get as heavy as 1,300 lbs.
  28. Hunters make the largest contributions toward ensuring habitats and wildlife populations succeed and contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to conservation programs that benefit many wildlife species.
  29. Hunters provide almost $86 million a year for conservation through the Pittman-Robertson Act—over $2 BILLION since 1937! It is the single biggest source of money collected nationally for wildlife.
  30. Hunting controls wildlife populations within the carrying capacity of a habitat. There is a limit to how many animals can live in a particular area. That limit is called the habitat’s carrying capacity. The quantity and quality of food, water, cover, and space determine the carrying capacity of an area.
  31. If you are thinking about owning fallow, you should know they are prone to fighting across fences during rutting, thus ripping holes in fencing.
  32. In a 2004 study on an India reserve, nilgai twins accounted for as high as 80 percent of the total calf population.
  33. In a 2016 report, the IUCN said a survey had found only three addaxes in the wild. 40 years ago, Texas had only two addaxes, but today there are over 5,000 on Texas ranches due to conservation efforts by the EWA.
  34. Invasive species do cause harm to our ecosystems; they destroy our lakes, forests, agriculture and even economy.
  35. Invasive species include wild boars, feral goats and even house cats and field mice.
  36. It’s interesting to note that the dama gazelle’s long legs aren’t just for show; the length provides extra surface area for their bodies to dissipate heat in order to stay cool in the hot desert.
  37. Kudu and eland can hybridize with one another.
  38. Aoudad, are listed as vulnerable by the IUCN, however in Texas alone there are 25,000+ head.
  39. Male eland weigh about 1,100 pounds but can weight up to 2,200 lbs.
  40. Mostly from the Mediterranean regions of southern Europe and because of hundreds of years of transporting and selling, the fallow deer’s exact origins are unknown. Because of this transportation, they are also the most widespread exotic deer worldwide. 
  41. Native species are those that are indigenous to an area. In Texas, these are white-tailed deer, mule deer, desert bighorn sheep and pronghorn antelope, for example.
  42. Native to Northern Africa, aoudad have been introduced as exotics in the US and other countries.
  43. Nilgai males do not become sexually mature until they are closer to four, but females mature at two.
  44. Once almost extinct, today’s population of Ibex is over 20,000.
  45. Once in Africa in the Sahara Desert, dama gazelle have virtually disappeared due to habitat loss and poaching. Their numbers have decreased by 80% in the last 10 years with a population of less than 300 in the wild.
  46. Once only in Italy and the French Alps, the Ibex has been introduced all over the world.
  47. One of the most interesting things about the fallow is its history with George Washington. He was one of the earliest exotic raisers in the U.S. and purchased his first “English deer,” which is assumed to have been a fallow.
  48. Only the alpha addax males copulate and they stay close by their pregnant female “friend” to demonstrate courtship behavior.
  49. Outdoor enthusiasts, such as birdwatchers and hunters, are more likely than non-outdoor recreationists to carry out conservation activities.
  50. Outdoorsmen, hunters and fishermen are 3x more likely to enhance wildlife habitats and 2x more likely to donate money to conservation efforts.
  51. Over 55% of the Department of Fish and Wildlife is funded by hunting.
  52. People say axis is the best venison you’ll eat. If you are reluctant to eat game meat, try axis venison first. It’s tender with a mild flavor. It has less than 1% fat, which means it’s technically fat free! The Exotic Wildlife Association actually voted it as the best tasting game meat.
  53. Regulated hunting has never led to threatened or endangered wildlife populations. The causes of threatened and endangered species are from urbanization, poaching and other reasons.
  54. Right after the axis, the nilgai antelope are the second most numerous exotic in Texas.
  55. Scimitar horned oryx were once all-over northern Africa, but their numbers declined to almost extinction due to drought and poaching for its horns.
  56. Sika are the sixth most common exotic found in Texas.
  57. Soybeans and petunias are actually nonnative species, but they cause no harm to our ecosystem, so there’s no need for removal.
  58. Texas has had a dramatic role in supporting the conservation of many extinct animals, although it has gone almost unnoticed by most of the country.
  59. Texas has more exotic wildlife than any place in the world. Texas has close to 1 million animals from Asia, Africa, Europe and other continents.
  60. The addax is also called the white antelope or “screw horn” antelope because of its white coloring and corkscrew looking horns. These twisted horns can range from 22-32 inches on females and 28-33 inches on males.
  61. The all-time record trophy axis occurred in India at 41 inches.
  62. The aoudad is super agile, love rough terrain, have amazing eyesight and are a brown/reddish color that helps them blend in with their landscape.
  63. The axis is from India and Sri Lanka.
  64. The chital, or axis, is recognized by its white spots and reddish coat and you’ll find the abdomen, throat, inside of legs, ears and tail to be all white with a black stripe running along its backbone.
  65. The color of the addax’s coat actually changes with the seasons. In winter it’s more grey-brown, and in the summer it’s mostly sandy blonde to redirect hot sun rays. Their coat length and density help with thermoregulation.
  66. The dama gazelle are critically endangered, and while there are only 300 left in the wild, Texas has over 1,500 thanks to the EWA’s conservation efforts.
  67. The eland has a brown coat, although mature bulls can look grayer. This is actually caused by their thinning hair which causes their dark skin to show from underneath. The calves have vertical white body stripes along their sides, but these fade with age.
  68. The eland is one of the largest antelopes with their huge, almost ox-like bodies.
  69. The fifth most numerous exotic hoofstock in Texas is the fallow.
  70. The internet says that the maximum recorded weight of a nilgai was 679 pounds, but we know that number has to be much higher.
  71. The IUCN lists the scimitar horned oryx as extinct in Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Sudan and many other countries and has assessed it as extinct in the wild.
  72. The largest and most rare of the gazelles is the dama gazelle.
  73. The longest horn length recorded for an addax is 43 inches.
  74. The most common exotic in Texas is the axis. It is reported that axis deer are confined on 463 ranches in 92 counties, and are free-ranging across many of the Hill Country’s counties.
  75. The nilgai is diurnal which means they are most active during the day. Humans, birds, dogs, etc. are diurnal. White-tail are primarily nocturnal (such as bats, skunks, possum) or crepuscular (active during twilight or during dusk and dawn). And animals active at sporadic times during both day and night are cathemeral. Cathemeral animals include coyotes, cats and frogs.
  76. The nilgai or blue bull is the largest Asian antelope. Please note, they are not the largest antelope in the world; the eland reserves that title.
  77. The scimitar horned oryx’s horns are long, curve backwards, ridged and have a sharp tip.
  78. There are amazing places in the State of Texas to see exotic wildlife. A few include Palo Duro Canyon, Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in North Texas, Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch near San Antonio, Y.O. Ranch, 777 Ranch near Hondo, Mason Mountain Wildlife Management Area and the Exotic Ranch Zoo.
  79. There are only two, or three, depending on who you ask, native deer to the United States. They are the whitetail, mule deer and possibly the coastal blacktail. The third group, the Pacific coastal blacktail, is simply a regional variation of the mule deer with enough individuality to be considered a legitimate subspecies.
  80. There are estimated 40,000 free-ranging axis and over 75,000 – 100,000 on private ranches.
  81. There are pictures of addax in tombs of Egypt dating back to 2500BC which show us they were partially domesticated. The number of addax captured by a person were considered an indicator of his high social and economic position in the society
  82. There is the European fallow, but also a Persian fallow. Some taxonomers consider Persian fallow as a subspecies of the European fallow, while others think they are totally different species.
  83. Two terms for you to know, especially when talking about the addax- “Laufschlag” which is a mating kick and “flehmen” which is a behavior in which an animal curls back its upper lip exposing its front teeth, inhales with the nostrils usually closed and then often holds this position for several seconds.
  84. When you see a scimitar horned oryx, elegance is the word that will flash through your head. They are graceful and gentle antelope and some people say, are the animals behind the myth of the unicorn.
  85. While the common eland is originally from eastern and southern Africa, they now graze throughout the U.S.
  86. While the nilgai females are more of a tawny color, the males have a bluish-grey coloring, hence the nickname, the blue bull.
  87. With only a decent sense of smell and hearing, fallow have very good vision.
  88. With the help of the Exotic Wildlife Association, Texas once had 32 scimitar-horned oryx and now have over 15,000 in Texas.
  89. You can thank the King Ranch for the introduction of nilgai into Texas. In 1930, King Ranch released a herd of these antelope and there are now approximately 15,000 nilgai in Texas.
  90. You should always get a consultant on your land’s carrying capacity when owning exotics or any wildlife.