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Desert Diary


Near the end of the ice age, some 11,000 years ago, a wide variety of large mammals became extinct. In many respects, this ice-age fauna rivaled that of present-day Africa. Various species of elephants, camels, the antelope-like pronghorns, several species of horses, and more roamed the range in what became the Chihuahuan Desert. The large-animal fauna that remains is but a feeble reflection of this past.

This being the case, various game animals from the Old World have been imported and released. One of the more spectacular is the Oryx, or Gemsbok. Descendants of animals imported from the Kalahari Desert of southern Africa were released into White Sands Missile Range from 1968 to 1977. These true antelopes weigh up to 450 pounds, and both sexes have straight horns averaging almost 3 feet in length. Descended from the 98 released, some 3000 now roam the area, some reputedly even into the northern city limits of El Paso. Marvelously adapted to desert conditions, it remains to be seen what the long-term effects will be on native vegetation.
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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.


Oryx. Photograph by Gary M. Stolz, courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.