Last week, they were racing across the northeast Nevada sage. Today, they’re learning about their new digs 450 miles to the north-northwest in South-central Washington.
In a lightning-fast move, 100 antelope were captured Saturday by the Nevada Department of Wildlife and dozens of volunteers, and 99 were driven in livestock trailers to the Mabton area of the Yakama Nation’s reservation and released.
“I had the last load, and unloaded them at 12:45 a.m.” Sunday morning, says Glenn Rasmussen of the Central Washington Chapter of Safari Club International. “Oh, yeah (it’s exciting). This is something we’ve been working on for a long time.”
He says his organization had first tried to work with the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife on reintroduction, including doing studies of potential release sites. But when that didn’t pan out, they found that the Yakamas were interested in bringing the so-called “speed goats” back to the reservation.
“It’s their project, we just arranged the financing,” says Rasmussen.
He says that nine or ten bucks rode back in crates on a flatbed driven by tribal representatives.
Due to the federal holiday, Yakama wildlife officials were unavailable for comment.
Antelope were gone from Washington by the mid-1800s, but four releases were made between the Great Depression and the Vietnam War era, according to a 2008 article by the Seattle PI. The animals hung on on the Yakima Training Center, but over time the population waned and disappeared.
“We don’t know if it was soldiers shooting them or what,” says Rasmussen.
The idea for reintroducing the species came when the club was looking for a conservation project.
“My son, Eric, made the suggestion, ‘Why don’t we reintroduce antelope into Washington?” he says.
A year ago, it looked as if it was on, but a helicopter crash scrapped plans to trade live buffalo from the Yakamas for antelope from the Duck Valley Reservation on the Nevada-Idaho line, Rasmussen says.
He has high praise for NDOW: “Boy, that Nevada game department is efficient.”
They were assisted by Nevada Bighorns Unlimited.
After the animals were netted, they were blindfolded and hobbled and taken to a staging area where a veterinarian drew blood samples and gave them shots, Rasmussen says.
Then they were moved into waiting trailers.
“That was the rodeo part — loading them in,” he says. “Every time you opened the door, the others were jumping to get out.”
Ironically, the one radio-collared antelope in the bunch escaped.
Rasmussen says they were given drugs for the ride back, a rainy slog north up U.S. Highway 93 then west on I-84. He drove a couple dozen animals to Washington.
“Releasing them was real simple, and was almost an anticlimax,” he says.
One in Rasmussen’s trailer had a broken leg and had to be put down, however.
The tribe identified 40,000 acres of the reservation that would make “fair to good” habitat for the species, although there’s currently also an overpopulation of mustangs on its 1.2 million acres.
A grad student may follow the herd around, Rasmussen says.
“If there’s a huntable population, that’s fine,” he says, “but I don’t think anyone’s concerned about that. When you travel through Wyoming, it’s just nice to see them. I don’t expect to go shoot them.”
In other tribal wildlife releases news, last year saw the introduction of 170 turkeys onto the Tulalip Reservation north of Everett, Wash.