Alien axis spotted in Big Thickets

On New Year’s Eve, Megan Urban, head of interpretation and education at the Big Thickets Nature Reserve, received a phone call from the reserve’s chief ranger.

“He just received information about the deer that broke free from this area, from a private ranch in the area,” Urban said.

The Big Thicket is a 113,000-acre federal preserve in southeast Texas. These are dense pine forests and swamps, and a variety of animals live here, but not deer.

Courtesy of Pixabay

Axis deer are spotted, brown and white deer that move in herds. They are native to India and Nepal but were introduced to Texas as game animals. They remain quite popular for this purpose.

The deer found in the Big Bush came from a private ranch. Local gamekeepers believe they have identified the ranch they fled from. The owner may face civil penalties, such as a fine, if found guilty of an exemption.

The wasps were sighted towards the end of the deer hunting season, so the head gamekeeper and reserve keeper decided to go ahead and allow Big Thicket hunters to shoot the wasps, as well as the white-tailed deer, if they already had a hunting permit. area – no special tags or fees required.

“If they are there and see a wasp deer, they can take it. They didn’t have to tell us, they didn’t have to tell the rangers,” Urban said.

There was a sense of urgency. Axis deer are not supposed to roam freely in southeast Texas. It is an invasive species, legally in the same category as feral pigs. According to Warren Conway, professor and chairman of the Department of Wildlife Management at Texas Tech University, acting quickly is critical to keep such an animal from becoming established in the ecosystem.

“Early detection, fast response. If they don’t want to have a free axis in the Big Thicket, quick response to early detection, that is, get out there and remove them from the landscape, ”said Conway.

Urban said that the hunters enthusiastically accepted the opportunity to hunt gray deer in the Great Thicket. But it is not known how many were killed, as hunters are not required to report their results. It is clear, however, that hunting did not remove the entire axis from the area. Local residents reported seeing gray deer in the area a few days after the hunting window for them in the Great Thicket closed.

Axis deer would probably have no problem living in southeast Texas, according to Conway. The climate is more similar to their native range than in other parts of Texas where they have already established a free-roaming population, such as the Hill Country.

Conway and his colleagues are studying how the axial deer and the native white-tailed deer interact. There are some key differences between the two. Firstly, white-tailed deer have a specific breeding season, the axes mate all year round. There is some overlap in their diet, but wasps will eat plants that whitetails do not eat.

Photos from Pixabay, illustration by Raul Alonzo / Texas Standard

“So, really bad dry year, not much plant harvest, who wins? In situations like this, the Axis could prove to be a winner because they have a slightly more flexible diet and are behaviorally dominant over whitetails,” Conway said.

This does not mean that wasp deer pose an immediate threat to displace white-tailed deer. But they will provide competition for resources that did not exist before.

They can also increase the risk of spreading chronic wasting, a deadly, highly contagious neurological disease that affects animals such as deer, elk, and elk.

Conway said events like what happened in Big Thicket, where non-native animals leave their enclosures and roam freely in Texas, will continue as the state’s largely unregulated exotic animal business continues to thrive.

“I think this is the reality, the fact that we will continue to see escapees and new species appearing in the landscape. These are real problems,” he said.

In the Great Thicket, it is still unclear what effect the axial deer will have. Reserve specialists will spend this year looking for evidence of their impact.

“Now that it’s ‘oh, we have deer in the sanctuary, what should we do?’ passed, you know, we have a moment to do some research, do some field research and make a broad management decision,” Urban said.

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