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Pronghorn Making a Comeback in Far West Texas

A pronghorn spotted between Marfa and Fort Davis ("Cool as a Cucumber" via Flickr/Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Pronghorn in Far West Texas are making a comeback thanks to a years-long restoration effort, with new data showing the animals' numbers have bounced back from historic lows just a few years ago.

Researchers at Sul Ross State University in Alpine have been working to restore pronghorn populations after they dropped to an alarming low of about 2,000 across the Trans-Pecos region around 2009.

They’ve been relocating groups of the animals into the region from the panhandle, where they’re more abundant.

In the 1980’s, about 17,000 pronghorn roamed the area, and while the numbers still aren’t anywhere near that again, Dr. Whitney Gann with the Borderlands Research Institute said things are looking better.

"We are just above 5,000, so in just the past six or seven years, we've doubled that number and we're still growing," she said.

Gann says the pronghorn’s decline in recent decades was due to a number of factors, ranging from fencing methods that obstructed their movement, to invasive species of brush that harmed some of the grasses they eat.

In this desert part of Texas, drought has also been a big problem.

"And unfortunately, in the past 20-30 years, we've had a period of increased drought frequencies," Gann said, "and that kinda came to a head in 2011 with one of the worst droughts on record in the region."

Researchers are encouraged by the most recent data, which showed a 90% survival rate for the latest round of the animals they relocated to the Marfa area. That's a rate Gann says is “unheard of” in her field.

The researchers aim to relocate more pronghorn to the area early next year.

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.