November 29, 2012

Marines assist in saving endangered species

Story by Cpl. Aaron Diamant
Desert Warrior Staff
Photo by Cpl. Aaron Diamant
Marines from Range Maintenance work side-by-side with wildlife biologists from the Arizona Department of Game and Fish and Marine Corps Air Station Yuma to build an enclosure which will temporarily hold between six and eight endangered Sonoran Pronghorn after they are relocated in December. The animals will stay in the enclosure to recover from being sedated for transport via helicopter from a breeding area, and the pen will keep them safe from predators while they do so. “It’s not every day you get to help out an endangered species,” said Cpl. Lucas Hayes, a combat engineer who helped build the enclosure. “It’s pretty cool.”

When asking why people joined the Corps, you’d be hard pressed to find someone answer, “To save endangered animals.” But, seven Marines helped do just that, Nov. 19.

Marines from Range Maintenance helped biologists from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, the U.S. Army’s Yuma Proving Ground and the Arizona Department of Game and Fish build an enclosure on the Barry M. Goldwater Range that will be used to temporarily house six – eight Sonoran Pronghorn antelope being moved to the area.

The Sonoran Pronghorn is an endangered desert subspecies of the antelope family found in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and Sonora, Mexico. Approximately 100 Sonoran Pronghorn are believed to remain in the wild in the United States. There is also a small population held in a captive breeding program on the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge in southwest Arizona. There are believed to be approximately 650 pronghorn in Mexico.

The Sonoran Pronghorn has been protected under the Endangered Species Act since 1967.

A Sonoran Pronghorn, wearing a tracking device, in its natural habitat.

The U.S. population very nearly died out in 2002, when a 13-month drought wiped out all but 21 animals. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service intervened to prevent extinction by providing water and forage and initiating a captive breeding program

The animals will be moved to the Western BMGR, where biologists hope they will merge with the herd of approximately 14 pronghorn already in the area. The animals are currently in a captive breeding pen in the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, said John Hervert, a Game and Fish wildlife program manager.

The animals will be captured, vaccinated and fitted with radio collars before being relocated and released into the wild. The radio collars will assist the biologists in tracking and learning more about the patterns and habits of the herds, as well as help evaluate other programs such as man-made watering holes and supplemental feeding programs the department takes part in to assist the recovery of the endangered species.

The temporary enclosure will be used to keep the Sonoran Pronghorn safe from predators such as coyote while they recover from being sedated for their helicopter flight from Ajo to their new home. They may spend as much as two weeks in their large pen, with plenty of available water and both natural and supplemental feed sources.

“It’s not every day you get to help out an endangered species,” said Cpl. Lucas Hayes, a combat engineer who helped build the enclosure. “It’s pretty cool.”

Biologists and ecologists are hoping that by spreading out the population of the pronghorn, they will increase the range and population.

“Our ultimate goal is, of course, to get the pronghorn population to the point they can be taken off the endangered species list,” said Bobby Law, station biologist.

For visitors to the BMGR, don’t expect to see large herds of them roaming anytime soon. The animal is so elusive, they are sometimes referred to as the “Prairie Ghosts.”

With the hard work and dedication of so many federal and state agencies as well as local Yuma-based Marines and civilians, maybe the Sonoran Pronghorn will stage a comeback. For now, we can only hope and keep working to that end.

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